“No Hate! No Fear! Everyone is welcome here! No Hate. No Fear! Everyone is welcome here!”
This is the chant my 5-year-old has on repeat. We aren’t protesting or rallying, we’re just doing normal everyday things, like grocery shopping, and this is what is on his mind.
When I hear him chanting or playing the role of activist, I am simultaneously proud of him and a little bit saddened that his brain is working overtime trying to figure out what is going on in our world.
Our kids are watching and learning from us. My goal is to show my kids that we are advocating for things we believe in and that they have power, too, to advocate for what they believe in.
Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way to navigate these sometimes challenging waters.
Let kids speak and actually listen to them.
Past generations taught children to be seen, not heard. Today’s parents know that giving kids the appropriate outlets for speaking out and asking questions will give them the tools and confidence they need to advocate for a better world.
Teaching kids that their thoughts and ideas matter starts from the beginning. Encourage them to share often. Have meaningful, age-appropriate dialogue with them.
Teach kids to think critically and research for answers.
Every parent experiences the rabbit hole of 1,000 whys.
Instead of going down that rabbit hole, coach your inquisitive activist on how to find answers. This may be a trip to the library, a Google search or a call to knowledgeable community members. Help them gather information and then flip the Q&A around on them. Ask them questions such as: What do you think the answer is? Are there any other possible answers? Did you find anyone who disagrees with you? How did you make up your mind?
The goal is for them realize that “why?” or “how?” can have many answers, and that the one handed to you is not always the right one.
Teach them about privilege, equity and empathy.
In the last few years, we have been submerged in a world that seems unfamiliar to so many of us. After hundreds of discussions about the change we want to see in the world, a few major themes seem to have emerged. The ideas of privilege, equity and empathy all go hand in hand.
Privilege is not a bad word; we all have some level of it. This concept is actually pretty easy for kids to understand. Everything they have is because they were born into a certain family, in a certain neighborhood, with a certain ethnic identity. It is the purest form of privilege and we can talk about that without making them feel ashamed. They can enjoy their home, their toys, their experiences. At the same time they can realize there are kids born to different families who do not have those same joys through no fault of their own.
As they get older, expanding the idea of privilege to everyone in our community will help them see the inequities and have empathy for those who do not have those same opportunities.
Growing that empathy for those at a different level of privilege is a powerful, and necessary, accelerator to activism. You have to see the inequities, understand the pain caused by them and then see the necessity to change to create equitable policies, ideas and actions.
Teach the idea that equity for everyone only helps our communities grow stronger.
Be an activist with them and show them their own power.
Lead by example. Talk with kids about what issues are important to you and how you plan on advocating for them. Then take them on the journey with you. Meet with your legislators, go to rallies and marches, engage in conversations with others. As they form their activist identity, facilitate and encourage their involvement. Keep track of their progress and keep them motivated, because activism is a lifelong habit with rewards that are often not immediate.
Help kids see the small victories and the positive lessons in failure. Then teach them to get up the next day and do it all over again. Why? Because we need them.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.