Today is the last full day of President Obama’s administration. His presidency has included advancements for women and minorities, although of course more could be done. Well, more could have been done had Republicans not have blocked him at every turn. But, I digress.
Tomorrow we enter a world where Donald Trump will be our President. We here at PSP respect the office of the POTUS very much. However, we’re biting our nails with worry about how our country will fair through four years with a leader who has publicly spoke negatively about women, Mexicans, those of the muslim faith, the disabled, etc… Through his presidential campaign he has normalized racism, sexism, xenophobia and the like for his followers. This is dangerous territory.
What does this mean for those of us who are raising children? How can we teach them empathy and respect when the leader of our country does not practice those morals? How do we protect our children from bullies who find inspiration in the negative things that Mr. Trump has Tweeted and said at his rallies? Well, while we can’t predict the future, here are some ideas for ways to keep raising your awesome little citizens to grow up and change our world for the better.
- Communication is key. This may seem obvious, but it’s soooo important. If you don’t already, work on creating a easy flow of communication with your kids. Talk to them about things that you see and explain what you think about it and why. This will show them your thought process and help them to learn it for themselves, or at least some version of that. For example, if you hear of a business that is supporting LGBTQ laws or denying service to LGBTQ customers, talk with them about what is happening, why it is wrong, and other similar businesses that you can patron instead.
- Communication part 2. I told you this was important. Listen to your kids, even when they talk about things you don’t find interesting, like Calliou. Ask them why they like it or don’t and help them process that. If they say they don’t like Calliou because he is annoying, ask them what makes him annoying. Help them to identify the root of that feeling. Maybe they don’t like him because of his voice. Help them to understand that even though they may not like the way he sounds, he is still a valuable human being (if he were real) and deserving of respect.
- Teach them empathy. Some of us have similarities, but no two people are the same. We all have differences and some of those differences have been used against people to oppress and marginalize them. Teaching your kids not to see differences as less than is a step toward teaching them empathy. Teach them that differences are what make us unique and that we all have a different point of view of the world. Teach them to value others opinions and to develop their own. Do this by example. Use opportunities you have to explain to them how and why you are showing empathy.
- Little pictures. You’ve heard the saying “children are like sponges”. Well, they’re also like little cameras. They take snapshots and store them away in their memories and learn from them. Remember that when you’re talking in front of them about others, even if they don’t appear to be listening. This is a good lesson for you as a good citizen too, to act like they’re always around so you can be the best version of yourself. If they see you making fun of the way someone is dressed, they’re going to think that is okay when they see someone dressed differently or uniquely. You have your own little pictures you took in childhood. Think about the things you remember of your parents or guardians and how that influenced the way you interact with others.
- Teach them resiliency. If your child gets knocked down (physically or verbally), be there for them and teach them how to get back up. Be careful not to tell them to “suck it up” or “be a man”. Instead, help them process through what happened and why it happened. Help them to understand that maybe their bully is insecure and that’s why they did what they did. Help them to see the bigger picture. Use yourself as an example. Tell them about a time when you were younger when something “horrible” happened to you and how you got through it (hopefully you have a positive example). They need to learn to pick themselves back up, but not in a way that just pushes down their feelings. They need to process and know that you are there to support them. This is especially important for those who are members of marginalized or oppressed groups.
- Surround them, and yourself, with supportive people. Show them what a good friend really is. Surround yourself with friends who support, encourage and value you. The same goes for your significant other. Teach them about red flags for unhealthy relationships, both in platonic and intimate. If you need to break up with a friend because they’re not good for you, talk to your kids about why you did that. Help them to understand. This will make it easier for them to do the same. By surrounding yourself and your kids with supportive friends, it will be easier for them to be resilient.
- Teach them to be upstanders. When you see injustice, speak up. Show them how to do this in a safe and respectful (of the person being attacked/bullied) way. I found this great illustration online that shows one way to deal with a racist or xenophobic person. Here are other tips for dealing with similar situations.
- Consider what they consume. Talk with them about what they see on their favorite show or movies. Kids pick up a lot of messages from the media they consume and what their friends consume and share with them. Are they learning things in line with your morals? If not, are they in a place where they’ll come tell you about it and you can at least process with them what things are bad (see #1 and 2)? Think about how you learned about things along the way and where you got your messages from. Did that TV episode turn out to be right about healthy dating behaviors? Or was it full of red flags they didn’t address? It might be “fun” to go back and watch it now with your feminist parenting lens.
Overall, let them know that they are loved and can come to you no matter what is bothering them. If they know they can come to you, even if you’re not 100% sure how to handle whatever it is, your relationship with them will be that much better and you have better odds of figuring it out together than they would alone.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s a place to start. Who knows what the next four years will bring us. It’s good to be prepared and have a healthy relationship and open line of communication with your kids. Good luck, and may the force of all that is good be with you.