Last week was so disturbing in so many ways. I was very disheartened to see all the violence erupting across our beloved country. Racism is an ugly, ugly beast.
Like you, I don't want my children eventually becoming victims of a violent society. As I mentioned in my Facebook post, I don't know how we stop this madness among adults. But I do know that as parents, there's one really big thing we can do to stop it in the future: raise non-racist kids.
Raising children who see beyond the color of a person's skin takes a conscious effort on the parents' part. We must deliberately teach respect and cooperation. We must destroy the "Us versus Them" mentality that has slowly permeated our culture.
The reality is that there are good people in this world and there are bad people. It doesn't matter what color your skin is or what uniform you wear. There are both kinds of people EVERYWHERE.
So we must raise our kids to respect others and not judge someone based on the way they look but on their actual actions. We must assume people are good unless we see them doing otherwise. We must raise children who value life and don't take another person's life lightly, or that think their own lives are more important than others. We absolutely must train our children to communicate effectively, without belittling, cursing, or threatening others even in anger. And we must help our children to have friends of all colors, backgrounds, and nationalities so that they do not fall victims to ignorant stereotypes.
Below are 15 things you can do to raise an enlightened, unprejudiced child who doesn't judge other people by the color of their skin.
1. Don't be a Racist
Model the change you want to see in our society. Model the person you want your children to grow up to be. That means NOT making or repeating stereotypical comments to your children about people based on the color of their skin, the language they speak, the uniform they wear, or anything along those lines. Treat people as individuals not as representatives of an entire race or culture. Your children are watching you even when you don't think they are, and they are learning how to be an adult from you.
2. Vocally Oppose Racism
Even if you aren't racist, society and the media constantly bombard our children with racist images (some subtle, and some not so subtle), so it is up to us to point out why they are wrong if our children see them. Our outrage and disappointment should be visible, but in a controlled fashion. We should explain with great seriousness how these images hurt people's feelings and send the wrong message. Whenever possible, we should relate them to our own children's lives and people they know:
- "How would you feel if people thought/said these things about you?"
- "How do you think [family or friend] would feel if they saw this picture? Wouldn't they feel bad about themselves or hurt that someone thinks of them this way?"
- "This isn't true. [Name] isn't like that at all, and would probably be hurt if s/he saw this."
Make your children think about how words and actions have power, and that those words and actions can be used to uplift or tear down.
3. Make Friends with Everyone
Take a minute to think about all the people you know and consider friends. Take a look at your Facebook feed. Is everyone one color? If so, it may be time to climb out of your box. Make an effort to make friends with people and families from different backgrounds, different cultures, different races. You'll be amazed at how enriched your life will become and the significant impact it will have on your child's perspective and treatment of others.
4. Speak Out
Time to put on your big kid underwear and walk the talk. Your child is watching you. Silence is cowardly. Be brave. If you are with your friend, and you see them (or even someone you don't know!) being harrassed, belittled, ridiculed by another person because of their color, language, or appearance, stand up and say something. Show support and solidarity. Bullies are more likely to pick on one person than they are a two or more. Show some class and fight ignorance with intelligence, strength, and dignity. Kick fear to the curb. Racist jokes suck. Don't laugh. Frown and tell it straight: "That's not a funny joke. It's cruel and ignorant."
5. Teach Respect
Everyone deserves our respect. Our kids should assume the people they meet are good people until they have proven/indicated otherwise. "Sir" and "Ma'am" should be a permanent part of your language and your child's as a sign of respect for others. You don't have to agree with everyone, but that doesn't mean it's okay to talk ugly to a person just because they have a difference of opinion.
REMEMBER: You can't control what other people do, but you sure can control your own self. Don't let other people drag you down to their level if they are vulgar or insulting. Treat them how you'd want to be treated.
6. Read Diverse Books
Reading should already be a routine in your home if you have children. They should be reading every day. Make sure that starting from the time they are born, you are reading books that reflect other cultures and people. Don't only read books about white characters. Don't only read books about black characters. Don't only read books about Hispanic characters. Don't only read books about Asian characters. Don't only read books about Native American characters. Don't only read books about Jewish/Christian/Muslim characters. Read ALL of them so that you can begin to understand why other people think or behave the way they do and discover similarities. Stop your kids from thinking of people who look different as "OTHER."
Need ideas for multicultural children's book titles? Multicultural Kid Blogs is a goldmine.
7. Teach Anger Management
Having self-control is the single most important trait a parent can help their child develop. Losing your temper is what 2-year-olds do. Train your kids to respond, NOT to react. I know for a fact that a calm, kind response and even a heartfelt apology can cool another person's anger. Really, it is super hard to keep screaming at a person who is responding calmly and with sincerity. You start to realize how silly and dramatic you sound/look. Remind them that by allowing someone else to make them out-of-control angry, they are giving that other person all the power. I tell my kids all the time, "You are the one in control of your emotions, they do not control you." Here are some great techniques for teaching kids how to control their anger.
And along with this goes the ability and willingness to say "I'm sorry." Teach children that apologizing doesn't make a person weak. It makes a person wiser and kinder. It doesn't mean you agree with someone else, but it does mean you're sorry you've hurt their feelings.
8. Teach Effective Communication Skills
Another valuable skill is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively with others. Children should be able to express themselves without physical violence. They should also be able to ask the right questions to understand why another person is behaving in a specific way.
The first step in conflict resolution is understanding the problem. Did Ana take Aurelio's toy? Why did she do that? How do we stop that from happening again? Is Helen scared of Billy? Why? Helen should be able to explain, and Billy should be able to understand so that if he is doing something wrong or if she has misinterpreted his actions, he can apologize and/or explain himself.
9. Show Them How Empathy Works
Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand and share the feelings another person has. Empathy generally has to be developed because most children are ego-centric and only think about themselves and how they feel. Sadly, if they do not learn to have empathy, they grow up into selfish adults who only think about themselves and their own feelings. Being empathic helps people see situations from multiple perspectives and makes them better problem solvers, a quality highly valued by employers.
One of the best ways to develop your child's sense of empathy is to help them learn to identify their own feelings and then apply them to other people. Asking questions such as "How do you think that made him/her feel?" or "What would have been a better thing to say?" is important for helping kids to think about others.
Here are some evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children.
10. Kick Jealousy out the Door
Quit worrying about what everyone else has that you don't have. Instead, start helping your child to recognize all the wonderful things with which they themselves are blessed and to give thanks for them. It's a lot easier to be happy for another person's good fortune if you know that you, too, have had many instances of good health, happiness, wonderful opportunities. At dinner each night, ask your children what the best thing was that happened to them that day so that they'll learn to appreciate their own lives.
And don't forget to celebrate the successes and blessings that others experience. Model the behavior you want to see in your children. For example, when a child in their class receives an award or goes on a fantastic vacation, say things like, "Wow! That is so great that Sofia got to travel all the way to Bolivia! I'm so happy for her! She'll learn so much. I'd love to travel, too, how about you?" or "Isn't that LEGO playset that Samuel got for his birthday incredible? I'm so happy for him, he's going to have a great time building it. Maybe we can save up to buy one similar. Which sets do you like?" The key phrase here is "I'm so happy for you/him/her." Because we need to teach our kids that it's important to be happy for others.
11. Nurture a Happy Heart
And speaking of happy, children that are happy are more likely to be successful adults and are less likely to develop mental disorders. They are more optimistic, less aggressive, and less prone to depression. They're more likely to see the good in others and treat others with fairness, not suspicion. It's okay to he sad or angry on occasion, as long as our general outlook is one of happiness. Think about all the truly happy people you know. Can you imagine any one of them treating another person unjustly?
I love the advice given in these 7 secrets to raising a happy child.
12. Develop Your Child's Sense of Social Justice
Help your child understand that he or she has the power to create change. Help them learn to identify issues and know right from wrong and not be afraid to speak up. Don't be afraid to point out social issues in our time, but be sure to discuss solutions. Because our job is to leave this world a better place.
13. Study U.S. History
And I don't mean study WHITE U.S. history. Study the contributions of ALL Americans. Yes, you should know about Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Lincoln. But you should also know about Agrippa Hull, William Flora, Juan de Miralles Trailhon and General Bernardo de Gálvez, Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Corporal Joseph Pierce, and thousands of others. Teach your kids that heroes come in ALL colors.
14. Learn a New Language or About Other Cultures
It's really hard to learn a new language without learning about the cultures with which they are associated. And learning a new language gets the language learner excited about practicing their new communication skills with other people. Instead of seeing people as "others" - dangerous, abnormal, not like us - they instead see people as positive opportunities with which to interact.
Here's a great way to study culture as part of your curriculum, or simply at home as character development during the summer, after school, or on the weekends.
Traveling has SO many benefits! It can help boost new language skills, reinforce what you've learned about another culture, give you an opportunity to learn and make friends, and help you raise a global citizen who cares about our entire planet and humanity. Teach your children how we are all the same and interconnected. You don't have to agree with everyone else's beliefs, but you should understand what those beliefs are and respect their rights to have them.