Yesterday the American mid-terms came and went and while the world is still turning, it feels a little more triumphant today. It’s been joyous, seeing photos of Rashida Tlabi and Ilhan Oma becoming the first American Muslim women in Congress, not to mention all the other firsts too (first Native American woman, first woman in her twenties). But we all know there is still much to do. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel my head dipping by the uncertainty of all this rage in the world. A world where hate is bait and where big mistakes will cost us (in more ways than just money) forever. A world where some children (children!) don’t even have a safe place to call home.
These are strange times. We know that. But how much stranger must they seem to the little people in our lives, as they try to make sense of what they overhear their grown-ups talking about? Because they do hear us. And they do have questions.
While I don’t ever want to burden, frighten or worry my children about bad news in the world, I do feel it’s up to us, as parents, to be the grown-ups our children need us to be and give them the answers and explanations they deserve in kind and gentle ways that they can understand. For me, that’s what raising children to be conscious (of their own feelings, of the feelings of others, of the world around them) means.
My boys are still so small. I don’t want to force bad news onto them when they are older, but I don’t want to hide it either. If something deeply upsetting was to happen in our city or to our country, I would want us to be able to talk about it safely and warmly at home - not have them hear something scary or the exaggerated truth from someone else at school, say.
I feel we owe it to kids to talk about real things - like skin colour, like why we vote, like helping people in need and looking after the planet - but in spirited and age-appropriate ways they can begin to understand (this is why I always, always turn to children’s books first). It feels important that we pass this along to tinier generations, in the most positive ways we can. Because if we don’t, who will?
With my children still so very young, there is a lot they simply do not need to know about, and will not notice, in their little lives. As with most things, I plan to follow their lead on how this changes. But I can already see my eldest being curious about a world that is bigger than the one he knows.
For five-year-olds sure are smart. They absorb everything. Their memory is clear as daylight. Early readers can easily piece together the headlines in a newspaper. And also, they understand. Let’s not discredit their ability to empathise. They understand fairness and kindness. They know what makes people sad and what makes them happy. And in their very big hearts, in my experience, they just want to put everything right. It feels so important to acknowledge this.
I’m learning that children don’t necessarily need to know cold facts so much as they do warm acts. They learn from what they see. So they see us reading the news. They can ask questions and we answer. We take them with us to vote. And so, like magicians, we turn darkness into light.
So when we feel deflated by bad ugly news, for there will forever be more, let’s turn it upside down. Let’s fill our immediate worlds with something brighter and better. Let’s do something wholesome and show our children we may be deflated but not defeated, even if we don’t spell it out to them (and, I hasten to add, you don’t need children to feel this way or do these deeds). A few simple ideas on how to turn bad news into something good below:
Five simple & conscious acts of kindness for children
1 Host a cake sale for charity - because we can still make a difference while enjoying sprinkles on an after-school treat. It doesn’t even have to be organised through school; I’ve seen kids do this right outside their houses, set up with a little table on the pavements, and the same in the local park too.
2 Go on a litter walk - grab wellies and coats, gloves and friends to clean up your streets, parks or woods or join a group initiative to do the same. Our local area often does “Tidy Ups” organised through social media. It’s easy to get involved.
3 Donate toys and clothes - and get your kids to help choose what they can part with. I’m also planning ahead to organise gift donations gifts for vulnerable children at Christmas time too.
4 Raid larders - and drop off tinned and dried food at food banks. Food bank usage has risen sharply this year with many families struggling to get food on the table. Lots of supermarkets now take collections to make donating food easy. On Eid, we donate money so families can feed their children and I am looking into food initiatives we may support at Christmas too - the London Basket Brigade is just one of many I have come across so far.
5 Pick a charity to support as a family - giving to charity is a huge part of my upbringing but it occurred to me that often we set up standing orders and direct debits and then subconsciously forget all about them. I love the concept of getting children involved in picking a charity to support and giving them the chance to choose, talking through who needs help and what we can do for them. We plan to do this as a family going forward.
Small acts of charity and goodness don’t have to be complicated, even if the news is. Showing our children simple and sweet ways to be charitable, generous and kind is all we can do and the best we can do to make even a tiny difference to the world they’ll grow up in.