Start with a book

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be an ally to people of color or other marginalized groups.  I’ve been seeking out commentary about what someone like me can do to make the world a better place for everyone.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to amplify the words of children’s author/poet Nikki Grimes.  She writes:

“Instead of looking the other way while hatred takes root in young hearts and minds, why not try this: Plant the seeds of empathy. Teach the young to feel the heartbeats of races and cultures other than their own. Replace any possible fear of the unknown, with knowledge of the knowable. Teach them the ways in which we humans are more alike than we are different. Teach them that the most important common denominator is the human heart. Start with a book.

Give young readers books by and about peoples labeled ‘other.’ I’m not talking about one or two books, here and there. I’m talking about spreading diverse books throughout the curriculum, beginning in elementary grades, and continuing through to high school. Why? Because racism is systemic and teaching empathy, teaching diversity, needs to be systemic, too.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  Perhaps one of these books will be a good place for you to start:

marketstreet_bg onefamily iamtheworld

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, One Family by George Shannon, and I am the World by Charles R. Smith.

But don’t stop there.  Keep reading diverse stories and talking about them with kids.  We will change the world one story at a time.

Read More:

The Golden Rule, Kindness, & Empathy

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You don’t have to be particularly religious to know and value those words.  In fact, David Koespell writes in Parenting Beyond Belief,

“Recent studies indicate that the Golden Rule is naturalistically based.  Studies of ape culture, and other animals, have shown that reciprocal altruism abounds in the natural world.”

Parents looking to introduce the universality of the Golden Rule may want to use The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper as a way of opening a discussion with their kids.  The picture book talks about the meaning of the words and shares various versions of the Golden Rule from religions around the world.  It is an opportunity to build religious literacy and talk about behavior, both of which are good things.  But for those who want to skip the “religious literacy” part of it this time, Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller is a fun take on the topic with lots of kid-friendly humor and a relatable situation (new neighbors).

Koespell goes on to write,

“This general rule, simply stated, makes good sense, although there are also certain common-sense exceptions.  Teaching it may not only make good sense, but it is already acceptable to most children once they develop the psychological capacity for empathy and can envision themselves in the shoes of another. ‘Now how would you feel, Rayna, if Jordan did X to you?'”

Empathy.  Researcher Christine Carter talk about empathy a lot in her book Raising Happiness.  I know I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before (more than once actually), but I can’t help but recommend it again.  Raising Happiness is about emotional intelligence for parents and kids.  It is full of practical ideas for creating an emotionally healthy family life.  In particular, you can start  building empathy in young children just by teaching them to label their feelings.  In our family, we like to use “I feel” statements, and Ladybug has picked up on it too.  Carter suggests role-playing with kids and teach them the tools of mindfulness meditation at a young age.

How do you encourage empathy in your family?  Please share your ideas!

For more about religion and science, see my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!  Books reviewed from library copies.