The Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafted by the United Nations in 1948 states in Article 1 that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Each human being is valuable and deserves to be treated with respect and honour.
Worldwide protests and riots in these recent weeks following the murder of George Floyd reveal the anger and pain amongst black and African-American communities due to prolonged unjust treatment and systemic racism. As Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, puts it: “people have lost patience because they haven’t seen progress.” These protests and riots also highlight a wide variety of responses and reactions. Much like the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an emotionally charged and turbulent time.
How can you help your children understand what is going on?
Be honest, keep it simple, and model the outlook you want your children to have. Jinnie Spiegler, the director of curriculum and training at the Anti-Defamation League, encourages parents to “be simple, brief and as honest as you can be” when addressing issues of racism. In her article “Anti-Racism for Kids: An Age-by-Age Guide to Fighting Hate,” Katie Arnold-Ratliff encourages parents to lay a positive foundation in the formative 0-6 years by cultivating love and respect for all types of people. You need to model the attitudes you wish your children to embrace and provide them with diverse, multicultural experiences.
Follow your instincts and intuition in determining what is age appropriate information for your child. Every child, family, and parent will respond and process in different ways. Many children have already experienced increased stress from required COVID-19 lifestyle changes. Decide which conversations are crucial for this time and which news reports need to be shared. Let your child also be a guide in what to focus on. If your child is bringing up topics or sharing fears about current events, then it is important to address them.
For younger children:
1. Keep your message simple and short
- Everyone deserves to be safe and to be treated fairly.
- Black Lives Matters (a movement) has been protesting because black people/African-American people have been treated unfairly. They want to see a change.
- Everyone has a right to protest peacefully and to express feelings.
2. Be honest
Share what you know and share as much as you think is appropriate for your child to know at this time.
3. Model the attitudes and behaviors you want your children to have.
4. Emphasize the importance of showing love, respect and honour for every human being. Talk about the importance of celebrating differences between people.
For older children/teenagers:
1. Keep an open conversation going: ask your children what they are hearing and seeing in the news and on social media.
2. Ask your child to share their thoughts on racism and the recent protests and riots.
3. Encourage your children and yourself to process and reflect on current events and to be aware of any thoughts or feelings that come to the surface.
4. Watch educational films, study the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, study the history of slavery and the prison system, and listen to podcasts or read books with your children that are written by black/African-American authors. Share your findings and discuss what you discover.
5. Find ways to make a difference:
- research organizations that are involved with anti-racism efforts
- volunteer for community events
- speak up about anti-racism in your community and school circles