As parents and loving adults, the task of what and how to talk to kids about some of the harder stuff in life can be overwhelming at times. How exactly do you explain to a child why there is so much hatred in the world or why there are some people that want to eliminate certain groups of people? I realize that this is not a conversation that needs to be had with every child (I won't be having it with my toddler anytime soon!) but, unfortunately, kids are hearing about or seeing this stuff and they need answers and reassurance from the adults that are here to love and protect them.
So, how exactly do we handle this tough stuff?
We can "teach" kids all we want that they should love and respect other people, that when we choose to focus on differences it only divides us, but perhaps what we really need to do is take a step back and take an inventory of ourselves. I just can't help but wonder how different our world might be if we saw people's differences the way kids do.
Differences aren't as important as similarities.
Though we are not, my siblings and I all have biracial or multi-ethnic kids. This means the cousins come in all different shades from extremely fair (my youngest nephew) to pretty pigmented (that would be my child). When my son was a baby, my nephew made a comment that the baby looked like him. We all found it quite funny because, skin color aside, they don't look anything alike. Not even a little bit.
I really don't know what it is that my nephew saw in my son that made him think they looked alike but he saw something and in his wonderful innocence he chose to focus on that. What if, instead of constantly pointing out how we are different from each other, we were more like my nephew and proudly identified our similarities?
Differences are celebrated.
We come in all different colors, shapes and sizes which certainly doesn't go unnoticed by children but I have noticed in years of working with kids (prior to having my own) that kids often like the differences of others. They are fascinated with skin color or hair color that is different from their own. I've known kids that want baby dolls of a different complexion because they find it beautiful.
What if, instead of letting our differences divide us we celebrated them?
Differences can be explored.
Sometimes kids do notice differences in what might seem to be a negative way. They can be unsure or even afraid of someone that is not able bodied like them or who talks "funny" but one thing you can guarantee, kids will explore the differences. It may be embarrassing for the parent but they'll look, maybe even touch and they will ask questions. As adults that "know better" we will tell them it's not polite and, yes, to some degree it's not but exploring our differences is a good thing. It helps us understand the other person better.
What if, instead of avoiding people with differences we asked questions with the intent of learning something about them?
Differences don't define us.
I always enjoy hearing kids describe people. It's often very different than how adults describe people. Adults have a tendency to point out things that aren't relevant to the context like race, religion or even sexual orientation. (I mean, really... why do I need to know the sexual orientation of your waiter? Or the "color" of the person that cut you off in traffic? I don't.) Even in times when I've needed a child to give me some more details, I would get things like "the lady with the hair" or the "man wearing pants". It is not a child's tendency to define people by their differences.
What if, instead of labeling people by their skin color, religion or anything else we just saw them as people?
I realize this might sound incredibly simple but I believe we have complicated things by creating division by placing such a high emphasis on how people are different from us. We have perpetuated hate by failing to understand one another. Will this "simple" view of life fix the world's problems? I wish that it could but it won't. It will however, make your world a better place. And if enough of us change our own immediate world, imagine the impact we could make.
Let's put our differences aside and "hang out"! Join my Facebook group to connect with me and other mamas.