No parent wants to talk to their children about heartbreaking stuff. But yet we want our kids to be aware, be leaders, and have the opportunity to live in a better world. This means that we have to have hard discussions with them.
Right now we are witnessing children in migrant detention centers, kids being separated from their parents at the border, and other continued border atrocities. This can also be looked at in the bigger context of human rights abuses, systemic racism and the incarceration system, and as part of the history of white nationalism. If as adults many of us often feel helpless with these issues where do we even begin with our kids? As a Jewish American, it is too reminiscent of the Holocaust (as well as Japanese internment camps and slavery) and I know that it is my responsibility to do something as well as make sure I’m teaching my children that this has to end.
Here’s an example of what this can look like:
My son is almost 4 years old and I have been avoiding the conversation about the kids in detention centers and human rights abuses at the border with him out of my own fear, worry, and feelings of helplessness. I actually pushed myself to do it as I sat down to write this because I knew I had to do it if I was also going to be hoping other parents would also talk to their kids. For his age, I explained it in regards to people with power being mean to other people. I described power in the way mommy and daddy have power in the house, teachers have power at school and then tried to explain who has power in the community. My son is very into knowing the names of people and things and so I used that to my advantage to help explain it. This included reviewing the names of who our representatives are and seeing their pictures. He sat with me as I emailed our representatives demanding that they stop these inhumane practices. It’s interesting the way kids process information at different stages. We also talked about it as we donated money to RAICES an advocacy organization. I helped him make the connection of when he did a fundraiser in school for kids with cancer and how that this was similar in how we were helping kids that needed help. I tried to help him make the connection with voting and reminded him about how we went to vote together. Although I honestly don’t know how much he remembers of that and so that will also be continued in the next conversation.
The way you do it may look very different depending on the age of your child as well as their interests and needs. It doesn’t matter how you do it but that these conversations are happening.
Here are some helpful tips to help you have hard conversations:
- Explain it in an age-appropriate and relatable way.
- If you worry about them feeling unsafe or fearful, discuss what safety factors are in place for them and how you plan to keep them safe.
- Use history for context. This can help them understand a systems view as well as to give hope of how social change has happened in the past to create a better future.
- Help them to identify and express their feelings
- Help them identify their strengths and interests and how to use that in a way to create change.
Here are some examples to help kids and teens go from feeling helpless to empowered:
- Write and call your representatives
- Write your experience and share it on social media, as a guest blog post, or as an op-ed for a newspaper
- Write a kids book to share with your friends
- Create art and/or music with a message and find creative ways to share
- Do a fundraiser and raise money for an organization working for change
- Attend a rally
- Gather friends, family, teammates, or other people to bring awareness to the issue and organize for more support
Here are some additional resources you may find helpful:
Let’s teach and show our children that change is possible and that history doesn’t have to repeat itself.