Talking to our kids about tough stuff

If you pay attention at all to the news, you've noticed that the world seems ablaze with hatred and violence--it's a big pile of stinking, burning garbage. Bombings, terrorist attacks, the GOP nominee spouting hatred, police officers becoming targets of violence, innocent people stereotyped and killed out of fear...the list marches on and on. It would be easier to just shut off the media, tune out the noise, and retreat to our cozy, safe spaces. There is definitely a time to unplug (I'm thinking and praying about my own media fast..more on that in another post). However, there's also a time to engage. There's lots of ways a person can engage: Participating in protests, through writing, through volunteering for an effort, and through dialogue. Because I'm a writer, I often tend to engage through writing, but lately I've been focusing my efforts more on dialogue and conversations with my kids to help us all wade through the muck and have a greater understanding of it and our place in all of it.

My two kids are seven years old, and they came to us at ages 4 and 5 through foster care. Unfortunately, our kids were positioned to talk about difficult topics at an earlier age than most kids because they've just seen and experience more than most young kids. On the flip side, though, this has allowed us to maybe be more forthcoming with our kids about current events than we normally would.

A few years ago I read Bob Goff's book, Love Does. In it, he mentions that he and his wife chose to talk about difficult topics and current events with their kids right away so their kids hear about these things from them and not the media or their friends. We've adopted this belief. Some would see this as destroying our kids' innocence early, but I see a huge benefit to being open with our kids: When we talk with our kids early about tough stuff, we have some control in how we present the information. In our home, we try to present all information through the lens of the Gospel. When we talk with our kids about acts of violence, and when we try and help them understand why someone would take another person's life (because their initial question is always, WHY?!?)--we remind them of the power of sin and temptation, of what happens when a person doesn't truly understand Jesus. When we talk with our kids about acts of violence driven by revenge, we help them understand how a person could be susceptible to revenge (we all are), but we remind them of how the power of Holy Spirit can help us overcome a spirit of revenge.
Super cute hipster baby because...why  not?!?
Moreover, we chose to talk with our kids about difficulties in this world because it invites discussions for what we can do to impact change. As a high school teacher, I was blown away by the amount of apathy and the sense of entitlement I noticed in some of my students. For a few years, I wrestled with understanding why this was the case and where this came from. Apathy and entitlement stems from many places. But through research and trial and error in my own classroom, I learned that I could engage students in social justice when I exposed them to injustice. When we dove deep into the Civil Rights era instead of glossing over it, students were shocked, but when I widened the lens and showed them more modern, current injustices, they were appalled. They had no idea that some schools were still segregated not by unfair laws but by poverty, by fear that kept neighborhoods segregated and closed off to certain groups of people. We walked through many issues like this; I gave them opportunities to ask questions, to scream, to cry, and then I pushed them to think about what they could do in their corners of the world. This is exactly how I approach difficult current events with my kids. I tell them about the injustices to expand their awareness, I give them time to ask questions, permission to be emotionally moved by these injustices, and then we talk about what we can do as a family to help. Sometimes it's simple things like looking for opportunities to be kind to our neighbors or classmates. Sometimes it's bigger things like loading up our stuff and taking it to a foster care agency so other kids don't have to move into new homes with empty bags.

Finally, we use books to talk about tough issues. When we started our adoption journey many years ago, I began collecting books that featured people of different colors, sizes, family backgrounds, etc. They didn't always have themes of social justice, but they portrayed diversity, and I think that's important. All kids need exposure to diversity; I can't think of any downfalls to exposing our kids to diversity in the literature we read to them. As our kids have aged and matured, I've started introducing them to books that are more clearly related to social justice (both fiction and non-fiction). Books can take us places we never imagined we'd go, introduce us to people we would normally never meet, stretch our imaginations, grow our capacity for empathy, and make us feel emotions we've never felt before. The really good books encourage conversation. So, I seek out good books for my kids. I let them scour the library shelves and find their own books, but during our trips to the library, I also hunt through the shelves for books my kids normally wouldn't pick. I read their monthly book orders as feverishly as my kids do, and I keep lists of things to read with them over the years. It's a nerdy habit, but it's one that has paid off with my kids. Some of our most interesting conversations together over both silly and serious things have occurred over books. Click here for a list of books that are sure to open up conversations about social justice issues.

Talking with our kids about tough issues is...well, tough and heartbreaking, but it can also be transformative as we help our kids make sense of and engage in the world around them. Right now, the world seems like a real crap-hole, but we cannot expect our world to change if we don't do anything to make change. If you work with children or young adults in any capacity, then you have an amazing opportunity to engage with the world by engaging your children with the world. Find a way that works best for you and your kids that meets them where they're at and honors who they are while also pushing them to

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