Racism isn’t new. The need for change isn’t new. There are just new situations and new faces being brought to the attention of the country and really, the world.
People are outraged, as they should be. Protests, voices raised, building awareness are all important things. But, we need to think long term. We need to make a bigger change. As adults, it is hard to change. We are set in our ways, have been taught certain things and while we may want to change, it’s hard to undo what has been done.
Our children are the change.
Be the example
Children watch the adults in their lives. Not just their parents but the adults that parents allow in their children’s lives. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends. Children hear EVERYTHING. when you have kids, there are no secrets. Trust me, I ‘ve heard some doozies over my years in child care.
We have to set the example we want our kids to follow. Do you get angry in the car and yell at fellow motorists? What does that teach those little passengers? How do you treat the fast food worker that gets your order wrong? Do you extend them grace or do you fly off the handle?
Children look at us to see how to respond to situations. That means we have a huge responsibility in how they learn to treat others. Remember, as the parent you are their first teacher and your actions are the lesson.
Just like setting a good example, words are important. But not just words, the tone they are said in. Children can hear sarcasm and distain in your tone.
Many, many years ago there was a little boy that I sometimes took care of. One day, we were at Wal-Mart and he suddenly said, “Oh my gosh! Don’t look over there!” Naturally I was very curious, so I asked what he was talking about. In a whisper, he said very slowly, “There’s a bunch of Mexicans.”
I was surprised, yet not surprised. I knew there were many Hispanic families that lived in his neighborhood. I also knew his parents and grandparents.
“But what about Junior”, I asked. “Isn’t he your best friend at school?” He nodded. “Well, Junior is Mexican. His mom and dad are both from Mexico.” He was shocked. He didn’t believe me. After talking for a little bit, it was very evident he had no idea why Mexicans were a problem. He just knew how the adults in his world reacted to them. We talked about how being from a different place or having a different color of skin didn’t make you bad or good. How you act and what is in your heart shows that.
Little ears hear comments. They follow your lead.
Kids are watching. The see your facial expressions. They see how you react. What are they seeing?
Do they see love and respect? Are they learning to smile and greet all people with kindness? Or do they see unkindness in your face? We all know people who can say one thing but their face will tell their true feelings.
Social cues are how children learn. They watch how we react and our body language. Do you hold your bag a little tighter if you see a person of color? Are you quick to lock your car door if someone that looks different than you walks by? Children are very observant. You may not even realize you do this. It is important to be aware.
OPen and honest
There are hard conversation all through life. This is one of them. Children aren’t color blind. They see differences in their friends. The difference in children and adults is our actions. A child will not want to play with another child based on their actions. They don’t care about the color of their skin or what their hair looks like or where they come from. They care about how they are treated.
In our classrooms, we teach our children that everyone deserves respect and kindness. We let them know that they might not like another child, and that is okay. There are going to be people in life we don’t like or don’t get along with. But we need to teach them how to handle that. The children are taught that while you might not like someone, you still treat them with respect and with kindness.
Let kids ask questions and answer them honestly. Teach them that there are many cultures, colors and kinds of people in our world. Allow them to learn about all the many differences and how wonderful those differences are.
Change of mind
As adults it is harder to change our own mindset. Think of our older generations. There are many that were taught that segregation was okay and other races were less. We can try to change that mindset and we should. But our children are the real change.
It starts at home and then our schools and on to our communities, Raising a generation of children that see color, but choose to celebrate rather than discriminate, will be what truly changes the world.
What can you do as a parent of a toddler, preschooler or elementary ages child?