Prepared by the staff of the Child Study Center
Being the target of hate can be devastating and often results in tremendous sadness, grief, and fear. During such a time it is not always humanly possible to respond to hate in any way but to feel the hurt, absorb the hate, and feel anger towards the perpetrators of the attacks. These feelings can often lead to prejudice against others whom we feel may be responsible for these attacks. However, as adults, we need to be aware of and stand up to physical and emotional hate and empower our children to do the same. The following are some suggestions for parents to help their children deal with this crisis without becoming prejudiced, stereotyping specific groups, or retaliating with acts of bias:
- Help children with their feelings. Provide an environment that will allow for children to freely express their feelings and acknowledge any pain and anger. Allowing your child to keep a journal, draw, and talk out their emotions are positive outlets for feelings of anger. Providing a means by which to channel feelings into positive actions is another tool to help your child. If you channel their energies into positive actions (e.g., reaching out to victims, writing letters and cards, donating supplies and food, planning a community walk/vigil) children will be less focused on becoming engaged in hurtful attacks on others.
- Set a good example. Children learn from observing your behavior. Be aware of the impact of your own biases and feelings of anger on your child. Be prepared to respond to purposeful acts of bias because children will carefully observe how you intervene when someone is the target of hate-based behavior. Be vocal in opposing racist views and practices. Use appropriate labels and words when describing what occurred and the individuals involved.
- Tell children personal stories of triumph. Children need to hear stories of overcoming oppression and surviving with triumphant attitudes. Fear that bad situations will never change can lead children to feel hopeless, which can lead them to use hateful words and exhibit hurtful behaviors. Providing such models show children that people have successfully stood up to hatred.
- Relax and answer the questions. Lack of information about people whom we see as different from ourselves sets the stage for hatred. Hate is also based on thinking or assuming something that is untrue. Treat all of your child's questions with respect and seriousness. Your own discomfort may lead to you trying to avoid giving an answer. However, answer questions with short, simple and honest responses. Ensure that you are using language that is appropriate for your child's developmental level. Providing details about events and discussing the answers to your child's questions are vehicles for helping prevent seeds of hatred.
- Correct your children. Make your child aware of your disapproval if he ro she makes an insensitive remark or reacts with attacks of violence against others. Remind them of how they feel when they aren't treated well by others. Set ground rules in your household for how your family should behavior towards others and develop appropriate disciplinary actions. At the same time, help them learn better ways to deal with their anger.
- Teach tolerance. Proactively teach understanding, openness, and empathy skills. Children who are sensitive to other people's feelings are less likely to be prejudiced. Sharing stories of the similarities between different cultures can help them understand the points of view of other people. Distinguishing individuals who do specific hateful acts from people who are similar to those doing the acts is also very important. Blaming an individual or group when the fault actually lies elsewhere reinforces hate. Some children may misleadingly think that all Muslims are terrorists, but, as adults, we can help them understand that what a few individuals did does not reflect an entire group.
- Respect diversity. It is important that we begin and continue our conversations about diversity and respect for differences with our children. Remind your child how important his culture is to him as a way of understanding how the other person must feel about his or her culture. Expose your child to other cultures through books, television, museums, and restaurants. Encourage open dialogue and development of friendships with a diverse group of people.
About the Authors
This article was prepared by Stephanie I. Coard, Ph.D, and Scyatta A. Wallace, M.A., for the New York University Child Study Center.