Times like these make it crucial to talk about teaching inclusion to our children.
For many weeks now, because of COVID-19 reportage, we have all likely spent many more hours than usual watching television and, therefore, have viewed many subsequent images of protests in response to racial injustice throughout the nation, as well as the rioting that has occurred. Many of us – and possibly our children – have viewed violent videos and disturbing images on TV or social media.
Learning beliefs and developing a code of ethics, for children, is much like learning a language. For kids, it happens early by observing the behavior of adults. Children under the age of 3 may not understand what they see on a screen, but they will note your response to it. They pick up on fear, anger and anxiety in your voice and actions.
As a result, this is the time to teach all children about inclusion versus separation based on stereotypes and about tolerance versus intolerance. For the youngest, reading books to and with children that feature characters of many races and backgrounds is one way to teach them to welcome differences.
By age 12, many children have become set in their beliefs, and change will be difficult. Well before that time, adults need to engage their children when distressing events are seen.
Focus on addressing their fears and questions, but also elicit their thoughts by asking open-ended questions like “Why do you think people are angry?” or “What do you think protesters are feeling?” Have open discussions with your children, of all ages, and you can influence how they treat others of all races, genders, religions or any other identifiers that are used to divide us, as well as how to celebrate diversity.
Although change does not come easily in American society overall, with children, we have the opportunity to change the future.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.
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