Empowering Children in the Aftermath of Hate
WHAT TEACHERS AND PARENTS CAN DO
People tend to fear or distrust other people they perceive as being different from themselves. When we convince ourselves that our way is the “right” way, we are more likely to strike out at those who seem different. In fact, intolerance of differences is at the root of much violence.
As parents and adult family members, we cannot assume that children are unaware of what is happening around them. As educators, we know that we must talk about these issues with our children. All people feel vulnerable when attackers go after “people like them.” To counteract the fear, we must ensure that children receive opportunities to express how they feel and to channel these feelings into positive actions in their own lives and in their communities.
Before any discussion begins, it is imperative that every effort be made to create an environment where children will feel comfortable expressing their views.
ESTABLISH GROUND RULES
Establishing ground rules for discussion can be a positive way of beginning. You may want to ask children to imagine they are playing a game of basketball. Ask them if they can imagine playing the game without rules. What would happen if nobody followed the rules? Then ask the children to think about the rules they would like to see in place to help them feel safe, especially when they want to talk about issues that may be fearful to them. Points to stress include respecting one another’s opinions, being open to new ideas, having empathy, listening actively, and maintaining confidentiality.
How can we begin and continue conversations about terror and violence with children? What can we say or do to help our children feel safe?
The skills we need to dialogue effectively with children change as they grow. Each child develops differently, and at his or her own pace. There are a few guidelines that are consistent regardless of the stage the child is in:
- Treat all children’s questions with respect and seriousness, no matter how difficult they may seem to you. Do not shush, ignore, or dismiss them.
- Clarify the question, so that you can understand what is being asked and why.
- Answer questions as clearly and honestly as you can and use developmentally-appropriate language and definitions.
- Correct yourself if you give a “wrong” or incomplete answer. Don’t be afraid of mistakes.
- Be alert to signs of upset. These include withdrawal, lack of interest, acting out, fear of school or other activities.
- Point out when an ethnic group is stereotyped on television or in a book and explain why it is unfair to stereotype.
- Take appropriate action against prejudice and discrimination. Children need to know that discriminatory behavior is unacceptable.
LESSON PLANS YOU CAN USE
Feelings (PDF): An activity for pre-school children to help them develop the skills and understanding to foster respect of self and of others.
Lemons (PDF): An activity on generalization and stereotypes for elementary school children.
Scapegoating (PDF): An activity for middle school children that provides the opportunity to examine how stereotyping, prejudice and discriminatory practices can lead to unfairly blaming individuals and groups for events when the blame actually belongs elsewhere.
The Pyramid of Alliance (PDF): An activity that provides senior high school students the opportunity to examine some of the ways that people take action against bigotry and ways a person can be an ally.
Download Empowering Children in the Aftermath of Hate (PDF) for the complete content of this publication.