So how did we get to this point? How did the world seem to become so violent? So diverse? So hateful? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how we deal with the world we live in today. It’s how we teach and model tolerance, compassion, and kindness.
Tragedy and violence have become the norm in conversations, social media, and the media across the country. Adults are talking and children are listening. Let’s teach our children the right things to do.
Here are a few tips for talking to your child or teen about racism, violence, or law enforcement.
1. First…you do. Don’t avoid these topics and don’t assume they are not thinking about them just because they are not talking about it to you. They are hearing about it through the news and social media and they will create their own explanations if they don’t have an adult to guide them. Children may even be filled with anxiety about their safety and that of their families and friends.
2. Ask and Listen. First figure out what they think they know, and secondly, explore with them how they’re feeling about it. Do not give them a lecture they can tune out. "The most important thing is not to just talk to kids, but to listen to them," said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Ask questions first: What have you been hearing? What are you feeling about that? Have you noticed certain behaviors? Do you feel like you're treated differently? Or, do you notice other people are treated differently? What can we do to include everyone?
3. Tailor your conversation to their age and emotional resilience. Multiple conversations may be necessary when children return to school and hear classmates say things that may need clarification. It's also important to monitor your own reactions and model a sense of calm for your children. It's okay to say that you don't know all of the answers. Be aware they are looking to you for reassurance and a sense of normalcy.
Preschool: Tell them sometimes bad or scary things happen, but you'll always make sure they're as safe as possible.
Elementary school and older: You can give them more detail about how tragic events can happen, specific steps they can take to protect themselves in the future, and that you will always make sure they're as safe as possible.
Teenagers: Ask if they know anyone affected by the shootings. Listen to their thoughts and feelings without telling them how they should or shouldn't feel
4. Limit media exposure. With widespread media reports, it's important to limit how much a child of any age sees of the shootings or any tragic event. When younger children watch replays of these events, they may think these events are happening again. For teenage children, direct attention to what is hopeful and watch media coverage together.
5. Don’t raise “colorblind” children. Racism is real. “When you raise children to be colorblind you’re telling them that racism is something they don’t have to worry about”, says Maureen Costello. “It’s a way of denying racism. People do it with the best intentions, but it’s a way of saying not only do you not have to worry about it, but I’m going to tell you it doesn’t even exist. You can say that you wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to pay attention to this and everyone really was equal because that’s what you believe. But explain the reality is some people don’t get treated fairly.”
6. Be very matter of fact. Law enforcement protects us. You can say “I hope you always trust the police and you should, but you can also be careful. Underscore the importance of knowing that if you’re with friends who have a different experience than you, you should understand they may be worried about something different than you are. And then ask “what can you do?” Talk about that together.
7. Take Action. Children need to know that people are not powerless in the face of hate; there are many things children and adults can do.
Have regular discussions about ways people can address hate. Brainstorm ways to address these concerns at home, in school and in the community. Examples include speaking out against name-calling, making friends with people who are different from you, learning about many cultural groups and exploring ways to increase inter-group understanding. Discuss specific steps to make these things happen.
Help children understand that if hateful words go unchallenged, they can escalate to acts of physical violence. Discuss how hate behaviors usually begin with unkind words.
Help children understand that sometimes it might not be safe for them to intervene; teach children to seek adult assistance when someone is being harassed or bullied.
Help your children feel good about themselves so that they learn to see themselves as people who can contribute to creating a better world. Model kindness, give when you can. Help a neighbor. It doesn’t have to be something big to make a difference.
Find purpose by writing a letter of support for the police or drawing a picture for children or families directly affected by the events. Teens might also find meaning in being more directly involved in helping through religious and community groups or organizations that promote racial tolerance AND understanding and support for police officers who protect us.
8, Use books. Books are a great tool and open doors for communication. Teaching children to appreciate differences and understand one another needs to start young. Here is a link to 60 resources. http://creativewithkids.com/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-race-and-racism/
Not all people have integrity and character. Not all people do the right thing. Let’s teach each other that these people are not all people. This is a teachable moment. Today is an opportunity to teach love, tolerance, understanding, compassion, and respect. Don't do nothing.
Maybe teaching our children how to live in the world they already live in, to be less violent will prevent these conversations from having to span generations