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Talking to Our Children About September 11th
Thoughts from the Family Pride Coalition and the Early Childhood Equity Alliance
A Message from Aimee Gelnaw, Executive Director, Family Pride Coalition
As we mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedies of September 11th, it is understandable that many people will experience a generalized sense of loss, including the loss of our sense of safety. These feelings manifest for different people in different ways. When I stop to think about this in the context of our families, I realize that, for many (maybe all) of us, we experience some degree of this feeling as LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] parents on an ongoing basis. Knowledge of this is what drives Family Pride to continue with its mission.
On September 11th, Family Pride lost three members of our extended family—Ron Gamboa, Dan Brandhorst and their three-year-old son David. As the one-year anniversary approaches, we remember and celebrate them and their commitment to all our families.
In understanding the debilitating effects of discrimination, I believe we have an obligation to address it in our homes and in our families. Through our parenting, we have an opportunity to influence our children's development in a way that collectively changes the world. This requires thoughtful, intentional work on our parts in teaching our children about bias and the ways in which individuals do and can respond to it. We should never feel powerless, and surely a sense of empowerment is what we all want for our children.
Below you will find information provided by the Early Childhood Equity Alliance. It provides a framework, suggestions and resources for managing the commemoration of this tragedy in ways that are respectful of children, and thoughtfully teaches them about discrimination and peace. These materials were developed specifically for educators. As (parent) educators of our children, there is much we can integrate into our lives and conversations at home. Any discourse about discrimination (against any group of people) provides us with "teachable moments" for addressing the bias that you and your children may encounter in the world. It is never totally about one group—it is always about us all.
From the Early Childhood Equity Alliance
In the aftermath of September 11, we find ourselves with many different feelings. We continue to be shocked and saddened at the horror of an attack directed against thousands of civilians and we continue to grieve with the children, families and friends of those who died.
At the Early Childhood Equity Alliance, we want to do what we can to help prevent more tragedy—tragedy born of pain, rage, vulnerability and the long-standing social psychology of racism in our country. We have seen hate attacks and murder of innocent people of Arab descent, Muslims and people who are presumed to "look like Arabs." Biases against Arabs, Muslims and immigrants in general are rooted in the 500 years of racism in our nation. Racism of any kind dehumanizes us all—both the perpetrators and the victims. In times like these, intense emotions can push good people, including any of us, into dehumanizing behaviors. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, when we are silent in the face of injustice, we also perpetuate it.
Many resources have been circulating that focus on supporting children emotionally in the current climate. We want to add to these our thoughts about how to uphold our anti-bias values for you and your families.
Start with Yourself
- Pay attention to your own feelings, ideas and knowledge.
- Keep talking with trusted family, friends, and colleagues to help you name and sort out all of your feelings.
- Pay attention to stereotypes, misinformation and acts of racism directed at people who are of Arabic or Middle
- Eastern ethnicity and people who are Muslims. Uncover, face and make a commitment to undo any misinformation, stereotypes and/or uncomfortable feelings you have.
- Think about/role play ways you can address racist statements and behaviors of others. How will you overcome any fears you have about interrupting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism?
- Learn more about the history, cultures and contributions of Americans of Arab background and of Americans who practice Islam.
- Take actions by yourself and connect with others in your community. There are many people of all ethnicities and religions speaking out against hate.
- Take time to care for yourself. If you get overwrought, you will not be able to help children.
- Teaching for Change/Network of Educators on the Americas has excellent resources for primary and secondary age children. The site provides articles and links for educators, as well as links to articles and analysis on the Middle East and racism.
Working with Children
- Help children name and sort out their feelings, using a variety of early childhood strategies (conversation, dramatic play, puppets, art, persona dolls, etc.) and to feel as safe as possible.
- Listen carefully for children's comments and watch for behaviors that reflect misinformation, stereotyping and fears of specific groups of people. Ask children periodically what they think is happening and what they are hearing, to open up opportunities for them to express their ideas.
- Resist the temptation to correct errors as the children explain what they think is going on. However, make a chart or keep notes of what they are saying.
- After they have had their turn, you can then tell them the version you think is accurate (you can do this right away or later in the day), but without turning direct attention to their misinformation or stereotypical ideas.
- You will also need to have this kind of conversation more than once.
- Also be sure to integrate specific teachable moments related to the current tragedy into your on-going work on empathy, understanding of differences and fairness.
- Think about ways to respond to children's questions such as "Who did it?" "Why did they do it?" in ways that respect the children's developmental levels, families and communities.
- Helping Young Children Deal with Violence in the News, by Diane E. Levin
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Coping with Disasters
- American Counseling Association: Crisis Fact Sheet: Helping Children Cope with Trauma
- About Our Kids
- All Kids Grieve: Support Kids
- Teaching Tolerance
- Purdue University Extension Purple Wagon: research-based information, recommendations, and activities to help children understand political violence, cope with fears and sadness when groups are in conflict, and learn how to make peace
- Educators for Social Responsibility: Understanding World Events: Dealing with crises and teaching about traumatic events
The terrible events of September 11th must also be understood in broader historic, economic and political contexts. Understanding this in no way detracts from our horror of what happened. It is important that we contribute to preventing the kind of retribution towards other nations that will continue the destruction of innocent children and civilians. The work we must do right now to counter a specific face of racism is part of our larger ongoing work to eliminate racism and other forms of discrimination and oppression.
As we grapple with how to constructively and justly act in response to this tragedy, let us recommit to our mission to build communities where all children are well nurtured and where people can live together in peace while enjoying each other's differences.