How To Help Immigrant Children Make Friends At School

Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Estrella

How to help immigrant children make friends at school
How to help immigrant children make friends at school. Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst.

You have recently moved to the U.S. with your family. Your children have not made new friends yet. They are still struggling with English. They miss their old friends back home. As a parent who is also new to the culture, how can you help your children? And if you are a teacher with international students, what can you do to help them build their social network? This article offers some ideas on how you can help immigrant children make new friends.

On my first day in an American school, the only English I could speak was “How are you?” and “Fine, thank you.” I had studied English in school. The focus was on grammar and spelling. There was no one to speak English with, so that skill remained undeveloped.

What immigrant children may experience

Imagine spending hours in school, not understanding what the teacher was saying. I still completed my homework as best I could, but taking hours longer than other students. Using the dictionary was not that helpful because the translation is sometimes out of cultural context. So, homework that would have taken an American student 20 minutes to complete would take me 2 hours.

Add to that several subjects, and there really was no time to play. Being a conscientious student, as many international students are, down time would have been a luxury. Looking back, having more playtime with other children really could have helped me increase my English speaking skills.

So, how can we help our immigrant children make friends more easily at school?

How teachers can help ESL students make friends

I was fortunate to have the best 6th grade teacher, Evelyn Wilde. She had traveled extensively, and was aware of my needs. She must have spoken to two of my classmates because I noticed Deborah Nissenbaum and Isabelle Reyes started spending more time with me at lunch and at recess. No longer was I eating lunch by myself. I had friends now.

Mrs. Wilde also had the school hire an ESL tutor to work with me several times a week. Understanding what I read became easier. It took less time to do my homework, which meant I actually had time to play.

How immigrant parents can help their children make friends

When I work with immigrant clients with children, they often ask how they can help their children make friends more quickly. Here are my suggestions for them:

  1. Enroll your children in a sports team they like. When your children are having fun, it is easier for them to connect with another. They are focusing on the fun, not on the language. They are not monitoring the correctness of their speech, but on communicating with their teammates.
  2. If you live near the school and can walk your children to school, you have an opportunity to meet other parents who also live nearby. Start chatting with them. You might even invite them to your home for tea and get to know them better. After you build a rapport, it’s easier to talk about setting up play dates for your children.
  3. If there are particular classmates your child likes, invite them over to play video games. Or have a pizza party so the children can just hang out and chat.

These are just a few ideas to help you start brainstorming. You know your child’s personality and interests. It’ll be easy for you to spot potential friends who could enrich your child’s social life. And improving their spoken English at the same time!

If you find this article helpful, here is one on How to make friends with your neighbors.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email estrellachan@gmail.com

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