Most immigrants leave their country because they want a better future for their children. For this reason it is very difficult to see children suffering. Like adults, children experience stress during their settlement process. Depending on their age they may not understand the reasons why they have left familiar places, relatives and friends. They might be confused because routines change, especially during the first months of moving to a new place. Children might feel unsafe, afraid of going to school, being surrounding by new people and new way of doing things.
At the same time, children might be very excited about the new place they live in. They might enjoy all the new opportunities that are opening for them in this new environment. They might have high expectations about what they can do now and the freedom they might experience in Canada.
The adaptation process is different for children according with their ages, gender, ability to speak English, and place in their family at the moment of moving to Canada. However, most go through the same adaptation process as adults do. Children are very resourceful in addressing normal stress and with the right support from their families and schools, children will succeed and grow healthy and strong.
Children express their stress in very different ways and those signs are unique to each individual. Some children might start misbehaving, be afraid of going to school, have difficulties adapting to new routines or/and to sleep. Pay attention to the length and intensity of these responses to stress. Parents need to stay close to their children and create family opportunities to have conversation about how everybody is doing. The more you know your children, the easier it will be for you to decide if your child’s behaviour is a result of normal stress or if there is something else that you need to worry about.
Remember what have you done in the past to support your children when they went through different changes in their lives. Remember how you supported them. You already understand the way your children display distress and you know how to support them.
Finding Support Services
Connect with staff that can support you to understand the Canadian child care or school system. Settlement staff and workers from family support centers are very well informed the way the system works to support children’s growth and well-being.
It is important to pay attention to signs that might indicate that your child needs extra support. If there’s any concern that your child’s behaviour is becoming more extreme, or that it continues in spite of the support you provide, consult with someone you trust such as a leader in your community, a settlement or family resource center staff, a teacher, guidance counsellor, the child’s family doctor or spiritual leader.
Here are signs you need to pay attention to:
- excessive worry or anxiety that gets in the way of daily activities
- consistent sleep problems or nightmares
- consistent disobedience or aggression
- consistent inability to cope with problems and daily activities
- change in sleeping and/or eating habits
- many complaints of physical ailments
- consistent depressed mood, often with poor appetite or thoughts of death
- frequent outbursts of anger
- severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- seriously trying to harm or kill himself or herself, or making plans to do so
- sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
- not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to make himself or herself lose weight
- using drugs or alcohol repeatedly
How Do I Talk About Mental Health?
Do you need help starting a conversation with your child about mental health?
Try starting the conversation with these questions. Make sure you actively listen to your child’s response:
- Can you tell me more about what is happening? How you are feeling?
- Have you had feelings like this in the past?
- Sometimes you need to talk to an adult about your feelings. I’m here to listen. How can I help you feel better?
- Do you feel like you want to talk to someone else about your problem?
When talking about mental health problems with your child you should:
- Communicate in a straightforward manner
- Speak at a level that is appropriate to a child or adolescent’s age and development level (preschool children need fewer details than teenagers)
- Discuss the topic when your child feels safe and comfortable
- Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if your child becomes confused or looks upset
- Listen openly and let your child tell you about his or her feelings and worries
Mental Health and Addiction Services for Children in Nova Scotia
IWK Health Center Mental Health and Addiction Programs offers mental health services for children under 19 years old.
- (902) 470-8888 in Halifax
- 1 (888) 470-5888 in Nova Scotia
You will find information about:
- Services in Nova Scotia
- Most common children’s mental health problems and illnesses
- Useful tips on how to support your child
You do not need a referral. Your call is kept confidential. You can request an interpreter if you feel the need of having one. All their services are free.
Teen Mental Health provides information on youth health for youth, parents, teachers and health professionals
Connect with settlement agencies for family support programs:
YMCA Center for Immigrant Programs - School Settlement Workers support immigrant children and their families in public schools. The YMCA offers as well a variety of programs that help children and youth to establish connections, learn about the Canadian culture, connect with services in the community and learn skills that facilitate the adaptation process.
Halifax Refugee Clinic - Legal and settlement services for refugee claimants
ADAMS - Support programs for African immigrants and their families
Immigration Francophone Nouvelle Ecosse - Support for francophone immigrants
- Family Support Program - offers individual and group support for parents. Attend a Parent Support Group to strengthen your parenting skills and to learn about support services for families and their children.
- Hand in Hand: A Parenting Journey - A parenting guide for newcomers
Connect with other immigrant parents. Share concerns and learn from them about resources to support the well-being of your family and ideas to keep your family together. Get involved in family activities that help you to know other families and to build networks of support.
Canadian Mental Health Association - information on how to help and support children who are exhibiting difficult behaviour
Here to Help - a resource video that shows what to expect when visiting a health professional with your child. It is available in English, French, Korean, Farsi, Punjabi, Mandarin and Cantonese: