At a time when parents, teachers and students are normally focused on readying themselves for the start of a new school year, Americans find themselves shocked and shaken at the senseless shootings this past weekend. We grieve for the victims of the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
Parents wonder how to talk to their children about these types of horrific events and question why we live in a world where this conversation is even necessary. Teachers seek advice on how to speak to students about anti-immigrant bias, white supremacy and the escalation of hate that seems to be infiltrating our society. One thing we know – we need to use these tragedies as teachable moments to encourage people to stop acts of terrorism and the spread of hate.
How these tragedies affect children
Though it’s natural to try to protect our children from the details of hate-motivated events, don’t assume they are not aware of what is happening around them. News travels fast through the internet and social media, even among very young children. They may feel powerless, vulnerable and scared, and need opportunities to process their feelings in acceptable ways. Adults can help them feel safe by providing simple, honest and age-appropriate answers to their questions, allowing them to express themselves, and helping them to channel their feelings into positive actions in their own communities.
Setting the stage for conversation
Before any discussion begins, every effort should be made to create an environment where children feel comfortable expressing their feelings and views. Every effort should be made both at home and at school to create settings that are rich in possibilities for exploring cultural diversity and encourage kids to engage in open dialogue. We want to foster children’s positive self-concept and attitudes about others. Parents and educators should keep in mind that conversations about understanding and tolerance should not be limited to specific events or activities, but should be an integral part of life in general. Children need to see adults behaving in inclusive and respectful behavior on a daily basis as part of an ongoing effort to work toward social justice.
*Help children understand and empathize with the experiences of people who are immigrants and challenge anti-immigrant bias.
*Talk about how to act as an ally if they see someone who is an immigrant or perceived as an immigrant targeted in school, the community or online.
*Discuss historical and current examples of white supremacy and its manifestation in mainstream society.
*Reflect on how hate escalates and moves from biased thoughts and rhetoric to hate-motivated violence like what we saw in El Paso.
*Ask what they are hearing from friends, classmates and through social media.
*Highlight people who helped the victims and their families during these incidents as well as those who supported them afterwards.
Free lesson plans from the ADL
Ground Rules for Discussion (English, Spanish): Help upper elementary, middle and high school students create a safe and supportive atmosphere for discussing and dealing with the aftermath of hate incidents and where they perceive that their ideas and feelings are accepted and valued.
Balancing the Good and the Bad (English, Spanish): Upper elementary school students investigate some of the bad and hateful things that happen in society as well as good or helpful things that people do to fight hate.
Remembering Those Hurt by Hate (English, Spanish): Middle and high school students consider people who have been hurt by hate and create a unique way to express their hopes that such events will not happen again.
Tragedies like those in El Paso and Dayton can provide opportunities to teach our youth about the dangers of prejudice and scapegoating. No one person can change the world, but we can all do what we can to make our small part of the world a better place. For more information about how to talk to children, contact your local chapter of the ADL