Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m glad the ugly racism in our country is being exposed.
Other than the obvious, “Treat people with respect,” and “Help others whenever you can,” how should we raise our children to be part of the solution? Our children are 6 and 8.
There are certainly things all parents can do. One approach is to show your children positive uses of power. As described by Eric Liu, CEO of Citizen University, the anger and action across the country (and other parts of the world) are a result of ongoing abuses of power. Liu identifies six kinds of power:
Physical strength can be used to accomplish tasks that benefit oneself and others. Conversely, physical control and violence are an abuse of this power. Encourage your children to add their muscles to yours when you move the furniture or carry in the groceries. Use your physical advantage to protect your children, to carry them when they’re tired, or to pick an apple from a branch out of their reach, but never to tease them. Put yourself at eye level when you speak with a child to balance out the physical disparity between you.
Economic power can be used in the best interest of those who have it, but should also not be used in ways that are harmful to others. Use your buying power to support black owned or minority owned businesses and companies that contribute toward the health, education, justice, etc. of those who are thwarted by financial limitations. Your family might decide to make donations directly to the non-profits that support these causes. Educate yourself to boycott the companies that have policies and practices that diminish the power of the oppressed.
Political power, when used to benefit the people being governed by it, uses law and communal funds (taxes) to equalize the imbalances that exist in a society rather than perpetuate them. As models to your children, use your vote and your voice to keep your elected leaders working toward equity. By example to your children, serve as benevolent leaders of your family. Teach your children fairness: equal portions for equal appetites. But also handle inequities fairly. For example a younger child needs more attention at bedtime. An older child has more privileges with cooking tools. Use consensus building to elevate your children’s political power at home by including them in some family decisions. Allow for all the voices to be heard.
Social Norms are the opinions and behaviors that are influenced from one person to another. Fashion is a good example. A hundred years ago, more and more women wearing trousers caused more and more women to wear trousers. Normalizing this new fashion statement helped our foremothers to ride bicycles, fly airplanes, and serve in the military. Now these roles for women are as perfectly normal as the wearing of pants for every woman. Outrage and social activism can work the same way. The death of George Floyd has sparked reactions and calls to action by individuals regardless of skin color. Where it once might have seemed awkward or risky to speak up, people who have let things pass that although they didn’t approve of, and would never do themselves, are now reposting emotional images and messages on Facebook. People of all skin shades are attending rallies and marches. And people are resigning from jobs rather than oblige by, or cover up for, racist practices. To relate this to your children, think of the anti-bully movement that peaked a few years ago. Children were told to tell a grown-up even if they were worried about repercussions. It’s the right thing to do, but looks more right when you see others doing it.
Ideas can be powerful. Racism began during European colonialism in the 1500’s to legitimize oppression. The notion was that human beings could be sorted into categories by skin color to turn captives into slaves and to roust and exterminate indigenous people for the use of their land. It goes on from there. You might present some of this history to your children in digestible pieces. Then explore some different ideas together, such as equality and what that should look like. If children are raised to expect that people should work together to assure that the needs of everyone in the family are met, it’s not too far a leap for them to believe the same about communities, countries, and the world. Equal worth doesn’t just apply to the people who happen to look like you, or worship like you, or speak like you. It doesn’t just apply to the people who prefer grape jelly and not to people who prefer strawberry jelly. Non-violence is another lovely idea. Look to Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches for conversation starters.
Numbers is a strength that asserts legitimacy. Crowd size matters. Liu describes it as “a vocal mass, a collective intensity of interest.” Right now there is a massive movement to end police brutality and all the other inequities suffered by non-whites in this country. Point out examples to your children. If you or someone you know participates in a rally, share the experience with your children. Maybe they would want to organize a coronavirus-safe rally themselves! This could be on your block, or to get even more children involved, on social media. Hellen Keller, an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, famously said, “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
Use your parenting power to be part of a long-term solution.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com