By: David Cohen
Changing the World Through Children
There are important changes taking place in the world, with the goals of equality and fairness. These will occur on a systemic level. However, educators, parents and other adults in children’s lives have a different type of opportunity. We can instill the values that help children know that people are equal; that everyone needs to be treated fairly. It is so much easier to support healthy development in our children, than it is to undo prejudices that have already been formed.
Young children learn from their immediate environment – home, school and community. While the news and other media are great resources for adults, these are not relatable or appropriate for children. Children learn from experience and from watching others. Therefore, we need to choose our resources and then follow through with our actions. Books, stories and, for the creative folks, puppets, provide a great beginning point. Stories can present challenges and obstacles, as well as some productive ways to overcome. When characters feel frustrated, how do they react? When someone is being treated unfairly, how is the situation resolved? When someone needs help, to whom do they turn? There are certainly many good answers for these questions, and we may each have a different opinion regarding those answers. We just need to commit to thoughtful consideration and intentional teaching. If your goal is for your child to be proactive in social justice, you need to provide the tools and the experience in doing so.
After reading a book about a character who was being excluded from the group, find a natural opportunity to discuss further (no child wants a quiz or an interrogation). Ask questions about how the character might have felt? Were people being fair or unfair? How could you have gotten involved? You will then have a point of reference when something happens in real life.
As important and impactful as books can be, you are still a primary source of learning. How do you handle frustration? Do you blame others or display fear of people who are different? Do you celebrate diversity? Do you challenge people when you see something unfair? Only you can answer these questions. But, know that children have excellent honesty detectors. This is where the hard work comes in. You don’t need to be perfect, but you need to honest. It is such a powerful lesson when an adult owns a mistake and takes the steps to fix it. “I had a hard day at work and I ended up saying something unkind to my friend. I’m going to give a call and apologize.” You should also describe empathy when you see it. “I was surprised when that person was so angry at the store. I wonder what happened to make them so upset. What are some other ways that people can deal with anger?” The point is, don’t hide your emotions or handle every situation behind closed doors. Life has so many teachable moments where children can learn how to be good people.
There is a lot of imperfection in the world. The choices that we make with our children today will have a direct impact on what the world looks like in the future. Let’s be thoughtful and honest, taking any steps that we can to be positive role models.