How do you talk to kids about hatred?

Friday, October 24th, 2014

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We had a short conversation with our oldest daughter, who is now almost five, a couple of nights ago about why she wasn’t able to go to Girl Guides that night.

“You won’t be able to go to Sparks tonight. The meeting has been cancelled for the week so we’ll have to wait until next Wednesday.”

“Why?”

“Because the schools all closed as soon as the students went home today. They aren’t open for us to have the meeting.”

“Why did the schools close?”

“Well, because someone in our city did something very bad today and put a lot of people in danger. The schools are closing to make sure we all stay safe today.”

“Why would someone do bad things to people?”

“Because they were trying to scare people. But it’s important to remember that we’re all safe.”

I have no idea how hatred of a specific group of people begins in every home. I don’t know how a 4-year-old could think there’s any difference in value between himself or herself and another 4-year-old with different skin colour or different religious objects in their house. I’m not sure how grade school children end up at anti-abortion.

But, in my secluded world, I imagine hate can begin in a conversation exactly like the one above, even unintentionally, with parents talking to their kids about the hatred of others.

Those words are the ones we used when describing the cowardly acts carried out in our city of Ottawa earlier this week.

We’re fortunate to live in a country where our big fear that day wasn’t necessarily how safe our children were in their schools but  how much they’d be told at school and how we’d talk to them on the car ride home. How do we talk to children about the attacks on the men and women of our armed forces?

Like 99 per cent of life, there is so one-size fits all solution to this conversation. We talked about bad people and we talked about how we can still feel safe because we have people dedicated to keeping us safe.

Our description of an act of terror isn’t perfect. Few explanations about this type of event given to kids are. Maybe we should have talked more about the heroes of the day. We could have talked about the people who ran to the fallen soldiers side instead of away from him immediately after the shooting took place. Maybe we shouldn’t have talked to her about it at all.

But what we feel we did right was to talk about the perpetrator solely as a bad person. Because in all cases of hatred, that’s what we see as a common thread.

We don’t talk about the heroes of the day being a Muslim hero, a Catholic hero, a black hero, a white hero, a gay hero, a male hero or a female hero. So why, when talking about the bad people, does it become more important to speculate on whether or not it was a Muslim bad person or a Catholic one, someone born in our country or one who came here from somewhere else? Acts like these aren’t committed by an entire religious group.

When people are on the lookout for an individual, descriptions become important—“be on the lookout for a white man with a black mustache and an orange baseball hat who is suspected in a shooting,” provides value. Talking to your children about the Muslim man on Parliament Hill who was shot after shooting other people does not.

On occasions like this, scattered among the stories of valour and those of grief are the ones where xxx community apologizes on behalf of someone of their faith and pleads to others that they don’t feel that way too. These stories seems misplaced to me. Nobody should have to apologize when someone of their faith does this. Nobody should have to worry about how they’ll be perceived the day after a shooting like this because they are also of that faith.

Someone on a CBC Radio call in show made exactly such a call and it was heartbreaking to hear them speculate about whether or not it would be best for Canadians if they just stayed home that day. Because they were Muslim.

And that only happens because they hear people talking. I overheard a discussion earlier this week about how Canada lets in anyone wearing anything on their heads. That’s hatred and that’s being passed on to children when in describing the shootings you talk about these people as members of an organized religion instead of as bad people. They are extremists, like there are in any group. They aren’t our neighbours, or the people who care for our children, or the people that sit in the desk beside you at work or the people who put on their military service uniform every day to keep us safe here and abroad.

Simply put, in our house we will not be teaching our kids to associate any group with any type of actions. But the good people all deserve our love.

3 responses to “How do you talk to kids about hatred?”

  1. Jack says:

    These conversations are hard. I remember trying to explain the Holocaust to my son and why someone shot Martin Luther King.

    But in some ways the hardest conversation was after Sandy Hook. My son told me not to worry about him at school because he sat close to the door and was sure he would be able to run outside if something happened.

  2. Mike says:

    I do not know how the tears would stop rolling out of my eyes if my kids tried to reassure me like that. I found it hard enough when they told me how good they were at lockdown practice.

  3. Larry says:

    These incidents and the ensuing conversations are becoming too darn common. They are not easy. It just sucks.

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