Although we may be registered Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, we are parents first. And as parents, how do we guide our children, teach them tolerance and kindness, and empower them?
How do we reinforce and model tolerance and kindness to our children?
Like many of you, my children accompanied me to the voting booths on Election Day and helped me cast my ballot. They knew the names of the candidates and that they both hailed from our home state, New York. They listened to their speeches. They accepted TV news programs as background noise. They knew that one candidate was a businessman and that the other had a chance of becoming the first female President. I talked about the election a lot.
Yet, as much as I thought my children knew, they didn’t actually get it. They didn’t understand the significance of the democratic process. My son compared the election process to the cookie voting that took place in his second-grade class, albeit absent the electoral college. My five-year-old daughter concerned herself more with the workings of imaginary kingdoms and her chances of becoming a princess than our democratic government.
My son, a proud reader, likes to steal glances at my Facebook feed or watch the news with me. Like you, my social media feed has taken an ugly turn: online arguments, friends of thirty years threatening to unfriend one another, and personal reports of local hate crimes (a Minnesota bathroom vandalized with anti-black and anti-immigrant sentiment, a child in New York asked not to sit with his friends because of his parents’ support for the other candidate, a Jewish woman in California who found a swastika etched into her car, or passengers who yelled to a New Jersey Muslim man, simply walking down a street, that he soon would be shipped home). This sampling from the Facebook feed of people I actually know does not even touch on the hundreds of hate crimes taking place across the states.
Thankfully, my children are very young and naive. Their friends are their friends. They don’t yet “get” anti-Semitism, sexism, and discrimination of any sort. Yet, I recognize that if this trajectory of intolerance in our country continues, their innocence will soon come to an end. Our children hear everything, feel everything, repeat everything, interpret and misinterpret, imitate, and react. I dread the moment when they ask me the meaning of a swastika or the words “white power” or repeat some inappropriate remarks they learned on the playground.
So, in the days since, I found myself seeking out inspiration from books. My children and I sat together reading, questioning, discussing, and connecting to our own lives. As a former English teacher, I know the importance of literature in providing talking points for kids. Even when I taught at the middle school level, picture books did wonders for opening students’ minds and conveying themes and messages too difficult to convey otherwise.
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Books for Children that Teach Tolerance and Kindness
1. The Invisible Boy by Tracy Ludwig
The illustrations (by Patrice Barton) in The Invisible Boy resonate with me, depicting a boy who literally fades into the background of the pages. No one sees this invisible boy, no one notices him, plays with him, or talks to him. Only until another child shows him kindness does he gain color.
Depending on the age of your child, there are many questions you may ask. With mine, I asked, is the boy really invisible? Do you ever feel this way? What would you do if the kids in your school were ignoring someone? How do you think this makes that person feel?
2. The Sandwich Swap by Queen Raina of Jordan
Written by the Queen of Jordan, The Sandwich Shop tells the story of two best friends of very different backgrounds, apparent by the sandwiches they eat at lunch: one pita and hummus, the other, peanut butter and jelly. Finally, they can no longer hold back their opinions and tell one another how disgusting their respective sandwiches look. With that, the friends separate and find new friends. This book can easily lead you into a discussion of the dangers of judging someone based upon their cultural differences.
3. It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
I love each of Todd Parr’s books more than the last. The title of this book, It’s Okay to Be Different, speaks for itself. His simple illustrations drive home the point that despite our differences, we must respect one another. Taking this further and applying it to the election, it’s OK to have different beliefs, to vote differently, to think differently, so long as we respect these differences and one another.
4. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
My children love Chrysanthemum as much as I do. In this book, we witness the confidence of a young girl get squashed by the teasing of her classmates. This opens up a discussion on bullying and the effect it can have on someone. It also encourages children to accept and love themselves unconditionally.
5. Say Something by Peggy Moss
Say Something is one of those books that I cannot stop thinking about. What does it mean to bully someone? If you sit by and watch someone bullying, are you at all responsible? Even with my kindergartner, this book really opened the doors to some interesting conversation. I really believe this book is a must-read for every parent.
You may also be interested in this blog post about books that inspire confidence and self-esteem in kids.
You can find all these books and more in my Amazon shop.
Note: Unfortunately, none of these books appear on my kids’ Kindle Fires, however, when I put in relevant search terms like “bullying” or “kindness,” I found many other related books. (For those of you who don’t have the Fire, it comes pre-loaded with hundreds of books for free. This “Free Time” feature ensures that they read for a set number of minutes before playing any games or watching any videos. It has really motivated my children to read daily). For more information, check out my blog post about Kindle Fires.
As a parent, I do not always have the answers. At the very least, I need my children to learn how to stand up for themselves, while respecting or at least, tolerating the opinions of others.
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