Children are the future of this planet, and their choices will shape future society. So how do we make sure we raise children who can promote positive change?
With all the media coverage surrounding racism at the moment, I thought it was only right that I write an article about racism. It makes me so unbelievably sad that despite all our vastly expanding knowledge and education, we still seem to be unable to tackle this global problem. We are more digitally connected than we’ve ever been before, but we’re probably more disconnected from each other than we ever have been.
It’s no secret that my mind often wanders to how serious issues affect children, and racism is no different. I have worked with so many young children over the years, and I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve seen children of different colours, religions and nationalities playing happily alongside each other. Skin colour has never been an issue for any small child I’ve known, and children with different spoken languages have managed to communicate and form friendships through play.
My experience got me thinking: At what age does racism really begin? When do children stop being a global community of colourblind and playful spirits, and start to become sceptical of those who are different? Where is this attitude even coming from? And why?
It’s true that I have lived a life where racism has never truly affected me, or those around me. I have mainly lived in predominantly white areas, with predominantly white neighbours, and predominantly white friends. Racism has been something I knew existed, but was never in the forefront of my mind.
I am not racist in the slightest, and I would never condone anyone being racist. But I have started to wonder if I am part of the problem – is it enough just to say I’m not racist? And to be quietly tolerant whilst living in my ignorance?
I have concluded that more action is necessary. We need to stand up for people who are neglected and abused within society, even if it is not an issue which directly affects us – it cannot be something we quietly brush under the carpet if we want to truly action change for those who are not as fortunate or privileged as ourselves. This of course starts with us, and we need to really reflect on how we ourselves can tackle the horrendous injustice which is still deeply ingrained in modern day society. But we also need to empower our children to be better and do better than our generation – but how do we achieve this?
How can I teach my child to challenge racism?
If we want to challenge racism, I believe we need to teach our children to be proactive. Here are my top tips to support your child to effectively challenge racism:
Check the attitudes of people around your child. It is likely that if you are reading this article, you care about changing peoples attitudes for the better. But can you truly say that everyone in your child’s life feels the same? Is it possible that outdated attitudes are being passed down via elderly relatives? Or by that friend who sometimes tells offensive jokes? It is important that children do not have these type of attitudes normalised by people around them wherever possible, so if you know someone who does not share the same attitude as you consider questioning and debating the reasoning behind their negative feelings – or at the very least, if you can’t reach and understanding then ask them not to share their opinions when your child is around.
Teach your child to stand up for what they believe in. Children who feel passionately about the causes they believe in will be key to implementing true change. I think the important elements to this are:
- Encouraging curiosity, so children can really discover the causes that mean something to them. After all, how can you be passionate about real change if you don’t really know what you stand for?
- Promoting education, so children can be highly knowledgeable about important issues.
- Encouraging confidence, so children feel capable and empowered to engage in debate with others.
- Promoting sensitivity, so children feel able to have difficult conversations with others, but are sensitive enough to consider the feelings and opinions which differ from theirs too.
(There is a fantastic book called ‘My Strong Mind‘, which encourages children to develop mental strength and positivity)
Make sure your child has a diverse range of toys and resources. If you look at the range of toys, books and equipment that your child has at home, I think you may find a bias in the way people are presented. The majority of stories published (in the UK at least) are about white children and written by white authors, featuring photos and pictures of white children. (This is not just an issue of race, and there are a wide range of people who are vastly under represented in the resources we regularly provide our children with, such as people with disabilities and same sex parents.) This kind of limited imagery and perspective does sink in to the unconscious thinking of children in what they perceive as ‘normal’, and should be challenged where possible. (There are some great books which may help you if you want to promote a more multicultural environment at home – some of my favourite books for children that promote the celebration of diversity are: ‘My World, Your World‘, ‘The Great Big Book of Families‘ and ‘I am Enough‘. For slightly older children, I adore ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’.)
Teach your child tolerance, respect and understanding. Children need direct teaching of how to be tolerant and respectful individuals, so they can display these qualities independently. Children need to understand why these qualities are important, and how they can show them to others. Remember, children are experts at noticing what you do as well as what you say, so if you want to raise understanding children then you need to really reflect on whether you are consistently providing a positive example of this.
Model empathy and compassion for the feelings of others. Children who understand the feelings and viewpoints of others are well equipped to be compassionate towards the struggles that other people face, and better able to understand how to support them. Empathy is a skill which takes time for children to develop, as they are naturally self focused during early childhood, but in my opinion it is never too early to start talking about how other people feel and think.
I hope these tips help you to feel empowered in supporting the next generation of society to become powerful and thoughtful people, who challenge the negative aspects of our society and promote real growth and change. If the coronavirus outbreak has taught us anything, it’s that we need meaningful connection with other people more than we realise, and we need to look out for other people regardless of their perceived differences. We’re all in this world together, so let’s make it a great life for everyone.
Have you been affected by racism? Have you changed your thought process on racism over the years? How do you encourage your children to be accepting of others? Let me know in the reply box below, as I’d love to hear from you.
Love, Heather x
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