Simple Ideas with Profound Impact
Racism and intolerance are very much in the news here in the United States and around the world. People are discussing lots of ideas about how to address this deep-rooted problem and that’s a good thing. New rules of engagement, new laws are surely needed. However, we’ve already tried to change racism and intolerance by changing laws. Obviously, it’s not enough.
In the long run, societal change is always most effective when it begins at the most basic level of society, the family, and then move to more complex levels of society. This is known as the principle of subsidiarity. We parents are our children’s first and most influential teachers. Each of us, individually, must look in the mirror and examine our attitudes and behaviors; and, most importantly, what we are teaching our children. This issue is too important to leave in the hands of teachers, sociologists, and politicians.
BrainFit Kids is uniquely positioned to help with this shift because of our dual focus on human dignity and brain development. BrainFit Kids’ vision is “a world where all children are valued, capable, and compassionate.” This has been our vision from the very beginning.
Let’s take a look at that vision – what it means and how achieving it can diminish or eliminate problems related to racism and intolerance in the future.
- Valued: When we say children are valued we mean that they are valued simply for being a part of the human family. When we value a child for being a part of the human family we automatically love them unconditionally. When children are valued, each child’s uniqueness is celebrated with love and respect. Valuing a child affects not only the child but also the parent. That dynamic begins at conception and continues throughout life as any grandparent can tell you.
- Capable: Most people understand what we mean by capable. The dictionary defines it as “able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent.” At BrainFit Kids, our goal is for each child to reach their intellectual, physical, and social potential whatever that potential might be. We all want this for our children. Since intellectual, physical, and social ability is the result of brain development it is axiomatic that a high level of brain development will result in a high level of ability.
- Compassionate: This aspect of our vision surprises a lot of people. We include it because we firmly believe that being capable is simply not enough. The world is filled with highly capable people who lack empathy and compassion. It’s been that way throughout history, For us, the vision of the world we want to see must include more than simply a high level of intellectual, physical, and social ability.
Raising a compassionate child begins at birth. In order for a child to have the ability to become compassionate the part of the brain responsible for empathy must be developed and “wired” correctly. This typically happens early in life. When a baby is held and caressed often, when you respond to the baby’s cries in a timely manner, when you and your baby share a mutual gaze, you are developing the parts of the brain responsible for empathy. You are working on the foundation for compassion. An abused or neglected child often develops a brain that is compromised in its ability to feel empathy. Without empathy, there cannot be compassion. Unfortunately, many children experience neglect and abuse every day. This happens at all levels of society but is particularly true amongst the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. It is important that we recognize this problem and address it for the good of the children and our society.
As I sit here thinking about all of the protests and the pain related to racism, I can not help but think of the children we work with and a related, but broader, issue. The roots of racism might be different from the roots of discrimination based on ethnicity or disability but they have several points in common – disrespect for, intolerance of, and ignorance about someone who is different from you. Racists do not like, accept, or even understand differences.
Having spent my adult life working with children of all levels of functional ability I have seen up close the value they all bring to my life, the lives of their families, and their value to society. When our daughter, Juliana, was a little girl she spent a great deal of time with us while we were working with families and their children. Throughout her childhood, she was surrounded by children of varying levels of ability – blind children, immobile children, children with learning difficulties, hyperactive children, children who could not speak, children who had convulsions, etc. Juliana began almost every morning with the same two questions. First – who is coming today? Second – can they see, walk, talk? She wanted to know because the answer would determine how she would be able to play that day. However, for her it made no real difference. To Juliana it was quite simple – some children could see, some could not; some children could walk, some could not, some children could talk, some could not. She was no better or no less a person than they, simply because she could do more.
I wish I could say that we did all of this by design. We didn’t. But how incredibly lucky Juliana was because she was forever and irrevocably enriched by her experiences playing with those kids. She learned about patience, tolerance, dedication, service, success, failure, and compassion. Most importantly, she learned about the dignity and worth of human life and through those experiences, she became a better person. All children have that same potential.
Many parents are now asking how can I teach my child to respect, accept, and love people for who they truly are? How can I talk about racism with my children? How can I teach my children to embrace and celebrate the differences in everyone, no matter the color of their skin, ethnicity, religion, level of ability, etc.?
Here are some thoughts.
- Begin by giving your child the opportunity to develop a well-organized brain.
- Read our blog post on teaching the universal values of empathy and compassion.
- Teach with your actions!
- Teach compassion by showing empathy for others who are hurt or suffering.
- Read books about differences that are developmentally appropriate.
- Have age-appropriate conversations. Keep it simple and positive. Be honest. Leave room for your child to ask questions.
Most importantly, remember that children are not born racist or prejudiced or afraid of others who are different from them. That is something they learn from the environment around them. You can help break the cycle. It’s really not that difficult.
One last thing… a little exercise in decreasing stress if you will… take a few minutes to sit quietly with your eyes closed and imagine a world in which all children are valued, capable, and compassionate… it’s a beautiful thing!
Some great books: You can order books online or pick them up at a local bookstore.
- Mixed: A Colorful Story
- We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)
- All Are Welcome
- This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World
- A Is for All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book
- I Am Human: A Book of Empathy
- The Colors of Us
- ¡Me gusta cómo soy! / I Like Myself!
- Say Something
- Strictly No Elephants
9 year old, Rylei created a children’s/teen’s bookstore featuring books centered around brown characters. You can also follow her @thebrownbookcase! Some other accounts worth following to diversify your child’s bookshelf are @booksofmelanin and @blackbabybooks.
Take the time to watch the conversation held by PBS Kids for Parents about talking to children authentically about race and racism.