After the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequent anti-racism protests swept across the nation and all over the world, many parents have been looking for ways to educate their children about these issues. Years of work as a counselor for children and parents, both in schools and via the Weldon platform, have shown me that many kids want something more. They want actions they can take.
As it is, children often feel powerless. But usually they can see that adults are taking care of the big problems. When kids learn about the systemic problem of racism, they discover that many adults feel powerless as well. This can exacerbate their own feelings of frustration and confusion.
Helping kids find actions to take can be enormously helpful. For some, that has meant taking part in protests. But there are also many things kids can do from home to feel engaged and have a sense that their contributions matter.
Here are 5 actions even young kids can take against racism, with your help.
1. Write letters
For children, writing letters to government officials can feel very empowering.
It helps them come up with the words to express their thoughts. And it's exciting for them to consider the possibility that their words, joined with those of others, could influence someone in power to make a change.
Hand-written letters sent by mail can also be shared as images on email and parents' social media platforms. Some kids like that—the idea that their words may reach lots of people, and inspire others to write their own letters.
2. Create lawn signs
On walks and when riding in cars, children notice lawn signs. Often, they see even more than we do as adult drivers, since we're keeping our eyes on the road.
Those signs don't have to be purchased, they can be created. Grab some poster board, markers or paint, and let kids come up with what they want to say. Kids also love the act of setting up the lawn sign: Let them hunt for a sturdy stick to attach their sign to, and let them help you plant it in the ground to share their message with anyone who passes by.
3. Create a campaign
Many kids know about Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmental activist who ignited a global movement for the climate. It's an inspiring story for children, showing that even people who have not yet reached adulthood can have enormous impact.
Very young children can't do all that Greta has done, but they can create campaigns within their community, school, religious institution, sports team or any other organization they're a part of.
Your child may want to create an online image that their friends or classmates can share with family across the country, saying something like, "The Kids of [your neighborhood, school or group] Stand Against Racism."
Or they may want to create a video in which several kids share a message to people fighting for justice. They may even want to organize an online fundraiser (with the help of parents, of course) for causes that support the effort.
4. Reach out to friends
Kids should learn that fighting against racism doesn't have to involve a grand gesture. One of the most important things a young child can do to take action is learn to be a safe, non-judgmental friend. The kind who stays attuned to what's going on around them and to challenges other kids are going through. The kind who also learns to speak up if they're seeing someone wronged.
Teaching kids that being a good friend is a way to combat racism can, in and of itself, be a very meaningful experience for them. Building friendships is something just about all kids want to do. By showing them friendships make a difference, you give them a tool to see their everyday lives as a step toward building a better world.
Even when they're home during the COVID-19 pandemic, kids can practice their listening skills and empathy when they video chat with friends. They can learn to ask questions and consider their friend's view, and to make their friends feel heard.
This can be especially good for children who are more introverted. They should know that even by serving as a good friend to one person, they're doing something crucial and significant. Those one-on-one connections have all sorts of positive ripple effects throughout a society.
5. Let them come up with their own actions
While all these steps can be helpful, I also recommend brainstorming with children. Let them come up with their own ideas. You may need to help them tweak an idea to make it more feasible, but honoring their inspirations shows them that their creativity and drive can lead to important actions.
Still, not every child needs to take action right now. For some, the effort to process what they're learning and make sense of it for themselves is plenty. They should never feel pressured to act, as though such a huge problem is theirs to solve.
In my time working with a wide array of kids, I've found that some just naturally want to fix things. It's best to help them find something to do. For kids who don't have that inclination, try just talking about possibilities. You can tell them about actions adults are taking, and ask them what they think. And let them know that if they have any ideas they ever want to suggest, you can pass them along to fellow grownups. This way, you encourage a problem-solving mentality without making them feel burdened.
Ultimately, the key is to help each child recognize that when they learn about a problem, they can—whether now or someday in the future—be part of the solution. And what part they play, ultimately, is up to them.