As parents, we all know that our children are sponges, soaking up the environment around them and the impact it‘s having on other people as well as themselves. So, what are our children learning about diversity, privilege and prejudice?
The murder of George Floyd earlier this month has brought to the fore issues of racism, inequality and social justice and the volume of the world’s press is set loud enough for our children to hear, whether it’s through television, radio, social media, or overheard discussions in the home. According to social learning theory, we, and our children, learn through observing the attitudes and behaviour of others, and the outcomes of those behaviours. One of the building blocks of Family Links Nurturing Programme is self-awareness. As adults in children’s lives we are modelling our responses all the time, whether to news reports or to others who are different from us in some way. In order to understand the messages we are giving to children about race and difference we first need to understand our own views and our conscious and unconscious biases. Developing self-awareness is an ongoing journey, we all have our blind spots and won’t get it right all the time. The author of, So you want to talk about race, Ijeoma Olou, states that ‘the beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself.’
As adults, we can model respectful curiosity and a genuine interest in finding out more about other cultures, religions and races. We can challenge stereotypes and encourage empathy, working to understand the emotional view point and lived experience of others. Children have a strong sense of fairness and can readily understand the unfairness of assumptions about others based on ethnicity, race or class.
Children may be struggling with their own feelings about what they are seeing and hearing. You can help them by:
Reflecting on what you know - you’re not an expert on everything, it’s okay to acknowledge what you don’t know, and be willing to explore more with them. Correcting misinformation so that children know what’s true and what isn’t, challenge biased reporting or social media, or racist views expressed by others. Question a single view of historical events.
Monitoring children’s responses - be guided by how much they know and understand and keep information age appropriate.
Limiting exposure to damaging stories or coverage – while it’s important for children to understand what’s happening, images in the news and social media are often designed to shock, and can provoke fear and anxiety.
Showing empathy - acknowledge what children are feeling and encourage discussion that enables them to express themselves freely.
Being willing to learn from children and young people - young people often have experience, views and understanding that we can all learn from.
Being silent is not an option. Take every opportunity to challenge racism, strive to become more self-aware and encourage kindness and respect for others whether within your family, school, workplace or community. At an individual and an organisational level this is a journey during which we are continuing to learn and grow; we may not always get it right but we continue to strive to enable every child and adult to realise their potential, enjoy positive relationships and live healthy and fulfilled lives
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
Sarah Darton, CEO, Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health