How to help your child step into discomfort and overcome obstacles to justice
3 socially conscious perspectives for parents to consider as they guide their children through difficult feelings
Obstacles--they are a part of life we can't escape. Obstacle to justice are unfortunately our reality for the short and long-term future. If you are reading this blog post, then raising socially conscious children and advocating for a more just and equitable world for the next generation is likely a priority for you. While doing this kind of work is meaningful, it does require us to continually navigate internal and external obstacles to justice.
Guiding our children to engage in socially conscious ways of living is relatively easier when the circumstances are pleasant, structured and under our parental control (i.e., deciding as a family to pick up garbage in the neighbourhood and using this as an opportunity to teach and empower our children to be more environmentally conscious). However, this is obviously not the way life works, so what is more crucial, is preparing our children with the necessary tools to confront the harsher and more unpredictable truths of injustice. As a parent, you want your child to be able to step out into the world and be armed with the tools to navigate the obstacles to injustice that come their way. Here are 3 different socially, and 'soulfully'-conscious vantage points to overcoming obstacles to justice and equity:
1) Navigating obstacles from a mindfulness standpoint:
As human beings, when we feel that we are wronged or that the world as a whole is unfair, we may feel anger, anxiety, fear, helplessness, sadness, empathy, frustration, and more. If we want to teach our children to take action on social issues that matter, and make an impact in the world, we must start by directing them inwards. Here are some simple first steps you can do with your child:
First, start by deliberately teaching them a wide range of vocabularly to name feelings that come up when they deal with inequity, injustice, lack of fairness or feeling wronged. You can brainstorm these feelings with them, write them down and assign colours to them (i.e., red is for anger, blue is for sadness etc.), have flash cards with feelings and a simple graphic on them, or make a wheel with a pointer, which they can turn and point to the feeling they are experiencing. (The internet is full of parenting and teaching websites with hands on tools to help your child name their feelings. The purpose of this blog however, is to focus on the foundational concepts behind socially conscious parenting. Once armed with the right foundations, you can more effectively pinpoint the right tools for the particular learning style and age of your child.)
Next, teach your child to close their eyes and notice how the feeling shows up inside their body. The body is a powerful source of guidance. Deliberately show your child to name how and where uncomfortable feelings shows up in their body (i.e., pounding in the heart, butterflies in the stomach, heavy breathing from the lungs, sweaty palms etc.). As you guide them through these first two steps, over time you will build their awareness and mindfulness muscle. Assure them that these feelings are a normal and healthy part of the human experience and it is ok to have these feelings in their body. Noticing and breathing through them is all that needs to be done at this stage. If you make it a regular part of your parenting practice to teach these two foundational skills, then children will be well on their way to then take action steps towards counteracting the obstacles to injustice that capture their hearts and minds. I absolutely swear by The Work of Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle's teachings, as lifelong mindfulness tools for people of all ages.
2) Stepping into discomfort from a place of privilege
If you are a socially conscious parent who comes from a place of privilege (i.e., a white family with financial privilege), one of the best tools you can teach your child is stepping into discomfort, as a pathway to being a better advocate and ally, with and for marginalized populations. This can look like encouraging your child to stand up for those at school who are bullied, different, or less 'popular', even if they feel uncomfortable doing so. This means teaching them about the bystander effect and modelling to them what it looks and feels like to not be a bystander (which involve both feelings of discomfort and empowerment). This requires feeling discomfort and doing what needs to be done anyway. For example, you may attend a Black Lives Matter rally with them, and talk about feelings of discomfort you may have, but go anyway. Or, it may mean discussing race and white privilege with your child, by reading books and articles on the topic, and giving them the inner tools (as discussed in point #1 above,) to label and identify their discomfort. It may also mean reducing some of your own luxuries that have come with your privilege, in order to donate back to communities that have lost along the way. If the latter brings up feelings of hesitation, defensiveness or resistance (it does so for most people and for me too), then this is a sign that discomfort is occurring, and it's signalling to us that we ought to take right action anyway. As always, when we as parents learn to step into our own discomfort, we teach and model to our children how to do so as well. Usually, after doing so, we notice that empowerment is a feeling that comes out on the other side. This is crucial in building a more equitable world and also relates to the 3'A's of people skills, discussed last week. Remember that parenting for peace and justice is a form of advocacy for our kids; it's not easy, but it's worth it.
3) Finding your voice and challenging power dynamics
Children are a vulnerable and marginalized group. Their voices are not respected or heard enough. They are often treated as 'human becomings', rather than human beings. Furthermore, many children have intersecting social positions that further marginalize them and create greater barriers for them. For example, children of colour, who identify as girls (i.e., young black girls) and come from low-income families, will have intersecting and cumulative barriers to their growth and opportunity in life. As a mother, parent and adult, I feel that it is my responsibility and our collectively responsibility to ensure that any child brought into this life be given equitable opportunity to flourish. This is why IGH was created. I personally struggled to speak up when I was younger (and to some extent to this day as well), and until recently, I thought that it was because of my personality; that I was on the shyer side as a child, depending on the circumstance. Now, I realize that there were and are powerful historical, social and systemic forces at play, which continually influence who gets heard and noticed more than others. These forces can be so hidden that over time, people from marginalized communities are taken to be inherently less successful or capable. Even as a teacher, mother and PhD student in Social Justice Education, I still struggle with imposter syndrom around being a social justice educator. The social conditioning is very real, multi-layered and deep rooted. As a parent, one of the most important skills you can teach your child is to speak up and use their voice; I wish I had been taught this. I have written a dedcated article on this important topic here. This is the first step in empowerment, which is all about confronting, shifting and equalizing power dynamics. Any and every child (especially those with intersecting barriers) must be treated as a human being in their own right--not a 'human becoming'--and must be empowered from a young age to use their voice and challenge power dynamics. The process will require mindfulness, as described in point #1, and it will also require allies who can step into their discomfort as in point #2, and truly listen. As we have seen in the world historically and as we are currently witnessing during this unprecedented time in racial protests, when groups of communities come together and use their voice, change, although difficult and slow, can happen.
This week's workbook activity introduces becoming aware of our inner fears and discomforts as a gateway towards being able to overcome obstacles to injustice. I hope that you will keep these 3 vantage points in mind as you navigate your own socially conscious parenting and how you and your family navigate obstacles to injustice.
Please comment below and let me know which of the 3 aspects of overcoming obstacles resonates with your particular family circumstance and why. Let's start a conversation and create a community--your voice matters and is part of the process of change.