Let's face it, no one wants to have to tell their child that there are nasty people in the world who will try to hurt them just for being themselves. We raise our kids to be good people, mensches, to help and accept others, and to do the best they can to treat those around them fairly and with respect.
Research shows that one of the best ways that we can help prepare our children to cope with discrimination and intolerance is by being open about it. When we show our children that these topics, though tough, are not taboo, we let them know that they can always come to us with questions or thoughts about life's scary situations.
Part of growing up and getting older will mean that our kids come face to face with some of the ugliness of the world. Given recent events, like a rise in anti-Semitic acts and bias crimes, a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh as well as waves of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, we may have to have these conversations sooner than we'd like.
We've pulled together a short list of links and resources that parents may find helpful in discussions with their children. This can be used as a starting point along with our post, How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Situations as well as Videos to Help Talk to Kids About Violence.
Related: After Terror: 5 Jewish Ways to Help Kids Deal via ReformJudaism.org
Talking to Your Kids
Many sources recommend being direct with kids about difficult topics while also tuning in to gauge how much your kids can handle.
The American Psychological Association stresses that for children in groups that are likely to be targets of discrimination, it's vital for parents to have ongoing, honest, discussions with their children rather than shying away from the subject. The APA also recommends:
Let the discussion be ongoing.
Keep talking. Yes, even--and especially--when it gets hard.
It's also ok to say "I don't know."
Be age appropriate. Keep things basic. Young children especially need simple information balanced with reassurance.
Encourage your children to ask questions.
Help kids learn how to deal with being the potential target of discrimination.
Develop healthy comebacks or responses to hurtful discriminatory statements. For example: “What an unkind thing to say.” “Excuse me? Could you repeat that?” “I disagree with you, and here’s why…”
If you catch your child using insensitive language, use the moment as a teaching example.
Model good behavior for your child.
Resource Round-up: How to Talk to Kids About Pittsburgh via JewishBoston
Education & Outreach: Confronting Anti-Semitism via The Anti-Defamation League
Jewish Education in a Scary World via The Jewish Education Project
Talking About Tough Topics via PBS Parents