Saturday, 18 June 2016

How To Talk To Kids About Hate Crimes (And Help Your Own Healing)

The last week has felt rather bleak. Like a pan of water on a hob reaching boiling point. The shooting in a nightclub in Orlando which killed and injured so many of the LGBT community, the senseless murder of MP Jo Cox, even one of my favourite cookery writers Jack Monroe being forced to leave twitter after the level of death and rape threats became unbearable. Hate crimes are nothing new but when the information surrounding them is so easy to access, it can feel almost overwhelmingly depressing. Its easy to feel powerless against the tide of intolerance which seems to have taken a grip in politics, religion and everyday life.So how do we talk about hate crimes with our kids?
Even if we as adults struggle to make sense of the senseless, its important that we open up an age appropriate discussion with our children about these events. Chances are (especially if they are of reading age) they have already heard or seen snatches of  the recent horrors. From newspaper headlines at the corner shop, sidebar news on their tablet or overhearing reports on the radio or TV, its almost impossible to protect our sons and daughters from these events and I believe we shouldn't try.
When basic human freedoms are threatened on a daily basis, perhaps the only positive thing that can come out of hate crimes is that they provide teachable moments not just for adults but for children too.
Deciding how to tackle these conversations can be tricky. If the coverage of a hate crime is leaving you tearful and shaky can you responsibly talk to a child about it without really frightening them? Yes you can, but it needs to be handled thoughtfully. Here are some approaches I have found effective.

#1 Keep It Age Appropriate

There is a big difference between educating and terrifying your kid. Children crave safety and stability pretty much above all things so its important to set aside your own worries about the state of the world before tackling these conversations. I remember being shown the Raymond Brigs cartoon "When the wind blows" about nuclear attack when I was about 9. It really frightened me and made me obsessed that the world was going to end very soon. It kept me awake at night and even now when I think about it I feel a bit anxious. It was too powerful and I simply wasn't mature enough to process it. With this in mind I am very careful. When I discuss events like the Orlando shootings for example, I don't place emphasis or offer details on the violence or some of the more brutal aspects of the crime. Its enough to tell my daughter that a person or group of people were killed or badly hurt.

#2 Don't Shy Away From The Reasons The Hate Crime Was Committed 

Its really important that we don't allow the perpetrators of hate crimes to become bogey men. A faceless monster who kills for absolute no reason. The underlying reason is always the same-intolerance. 
As parents we mustn't let the architects of these horrors off the hook with a banal "they were bad people" instead emphasise how the LGBT community in Orlando were targeted simply for being themselves. For having fun with their friends and for loving who they wanted to love. 
I remember explaining to my daughter a few years ago that people didn't "choose" to be gay It was how they were born, like having big feet or curly hair. Who we want to love is an innate part of our biological make up. I asked what she would think of someone who judged her for having brown eyes and she replied "that they were silly, its who I am, I cant change it and wouldn't want to" Kids see things in very simple terms and need little convincing that attacking people for their sexual orientation or beliefs is wrong. Its very refreshing.

#3 Use Examples They Can Relate To When Explaining Intolerance

 Explaining racism and how it motivates hate crimes to kids is actually harder than it sounds because so often your child will just not grasp why anyone would want to hurt someone simply because of the colour of their skin. Using films or books can be a great help for the parent trying to explain bigotry. The Pixar movie Zootopia for example with its main character of Judy Hopp the rabbit draws some brilliant parallels with race inequality.How everything seems peaceful but actually the world is dominated by the bigger animals who want to keep the likes of Judy down.  I also found the Dr Seuss book "The Sneetches and other stories" a great gateway book when I first began talking to her about diversity. Its much like getting on the floor and being on their level. It breaks down powerful concepts into bite size pieces which are easy for a child's mind to digest.

#4 Keep Making It About The Victims Not The Perpetrators

Its so easy when discussing hate crimes to focus almost entirely on those committing them. To raise children who believe all people deserve to live peaceful lives regardless of race, sexual orientation or beliefs we need to switch the focus. 
Strip away the idea of people being almost faceless "victims" and instead take a few moments to see them for what they were-vibrant, beautiful humans whose light was extinguished by intolerance. A really easy way to do this is look at pictures of, for example Jo Cox. A happy smiley clever woman who was a mummy and who helped other people. Pay tribute to victims of hate crimes. Whether it be by taking your child to lay a posy at a vigil, going to a local church to light a candle or agreeing to donate this weeks takeaway money to a fund to help those affected. 

#5 Keep Your Mental Health Messages Clear 

 Its understandable when trying to reassure a confused child about something (that lets be honest we adults don't really understand) to simply say "well they were clearly mad" but for the sake of having meaningful discussion about mental heath later down the line I avoid these generalisations.
People with mental health problems are still far more likely to be attacked or killed than be the perpetrators and its vital that we don't allow ill informed ideas of how mentally ill people behave become wedded to our views of the type pf people who commit hate crimes.

#6 Pay Tribute To The Fallen With Your Own Acts Of Love

The problems of intolerance and hate can seem insurmountable but we are not small. We each make a difference in this world. Change is brought about not just by grand sweeping gestures or acts in parliament but also by individuals such as you and I committing to living in a peaceful, inclusive way. With every article we share on social media, with every petition we sign, with every fair trade purchase we make, with every act of kindness we shine light into the dark corners. We are the light bringers and the world has never needed us more.


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