There’s been a lot to be angry about lately: police brutality, mass shootings, politicians spreading hate. When I get depressed at the world, I do what I’ve always done: look to kids. I created Curiosity Pack to empower kids and families to change the world. It sounds lofty, but I believe that when kids develop empathy and the tools to fight injustice, the future will be brighter. Change starts at home, with your kids. If you want the world to be a better place, it’s your job to help your kids change it. Get started by developing five key skills:
From a very young age, kids are developing a sense of justice. Encourage kids to speak up for themselves and speak out against injustice. Does your preschooler keep getting left out of a game? Teach her how to share her feelings and ask to play. Does your child notice a peer getting called names? Show him how to step in and model how to assertively say “That’s not nice.” Kids should feel like they have the power to stand up for themselves and others. We can’t control the reactions they get, but fostering a sense of agency helps kids learn that they have their voices can make big impacts.
When kids are really young, they depend on their grownups to teach them what is right and what is wrong. Some things are simple (eating raw chicken is always a no!) while others are complex (should you always let a friend play with you?). To help kids develop their own moral compasses, we need to teach them to turn to both others and themselves. Teaching kids to trust their intuition and tune into how they feel can guide them towards learning that helping others not only makes situations better but also feels good.
Be a Critical Thinker
Imagine if you believed everything you read: all the crazy articles floating around the Internet, email scams, and articles based off of faulty research. Now more than ever, it’s important that kids learn critical thinking skills. Kids need to learn how to analyze writing and determine if it’s written by a reputable source or someone’s crazy aunt. They need to learn about bias, multiple perspectives, and the importance of evidence. They need to learn to not believe everything they hear.
Though sometimes it might seem appealing to have kids that obediently listen to everything we say (believe me, I see the appeal), that kind of blind following is problematic. If we want to help kids become critical thinkers, we need to encourage them to ask questions and think carefully what they see, read, and hear. That’s all to say that the endless “Why?” that your kid is asking does indeed have a purpose. So try not to shut it down!
A key part of developing empathy is listening to each other. To truly understand someone’s perspective, we need to sit back and hear what they have to say. This can be particularly challenging for young kids, who by nature are egocentric. But you can push your child by asking him to notice other people’s experiences and role play what it would like to experience situations from another person’s point of view.
Kids develop empathy through interactions with people who are different from them. This helps push kids to expand their worldview and realize that everyone doesn’t have the same experiences. You may not be able to completely orchestrate the environment your child lives in, so that’s where books come in! When picking out books for your child, representation matters. It’s important that your child sees both characters who look like them and characters that don’t. Some of my favorite resources for building diverse libraries are We Need Diverse Books and Canerow’s Google Doc of books featuring people of color.
Finally, and most importantly, lead with love. When the world feels full of hate, choose love. Show your kids that anger can spark change, but love sustains it. Teach your kids to be thankful, to look out for one another, and to find and spread joy. When we live with respect and appreciation for all people, we teach kids what is most important, the force that will truly change the world: LOVE.