We’ve had a year of activism, my children and I.
Gracie and Oliver joined our fellow humanitarians at the Women’s March, as women’s rights are human rights. We sadly found ourselves among children who fear for their lives while attending school when we participated in the National School Walk Out and March For Our Lives. We were part of millions across the globe who are clear that the world can be a better place and we are responsible to make it that way. Being part of these events allowed me to see my fellow neighbors together in solidarity, peacefully, and powerfully articulating the importance of standing up for what you believe. I was so proud of my children who stood with me showing the world where we stand.
After each march, I carried our home-made signs back to our car, buckled my sweet children into their carseats and felt good, proud as a mom for what I was able to help my children learn. Each time, I wanted to savor this moment.
Then it hit me, activism is a daily practice. These events may be over, but it’s not over for me or my children. We must stand firm in our values and express them in our daily actions. This is the only way to ensure change.
As a therapist, I believe that everyday moments create lasting change. Here are a few everyday moments for other parents out there looking for ways to support their child in being a person who is principled and lives by their core values.
1. "I haves” not “I wants" - Values start with a grateful heart. Acknowledging what you have is important for gratitude and in recognizing the blessings present in your life. It is also a great way to help instill values of appreciation and thoughtfulness. Children can be supported in this gratitude practice by simplifying the language. Just before bed or at the dinner table start the conversation with “I’m happy that I have…” and see what unfolds. When your children focus on less important material objects (i.e. Wii gaming system), as young children may, scaffold the conversation to their core values. Make this a daily ritual and soon your children will learn what it means to appreciate what’s around them.
2. Support the elimination of othering - Make a habit of sharing about differences in a positive and informative way rather than othering or silencing your children when they other. As children grow, questions naturally emerge. Some of these questions, although well intentioned in their innocent nature, are not always appropriate or helpful to the continued development of compassionate and loving humans. As embarrassing as these questions are to hear as a parent, remind yourself of your child’s innocence and that this question is rooted in curiosity. See it as a moment to build empathy. Help them to reflect on how it would feel to have something mean and hurtful said about them in that way. Bridge the gap and talk about the similarities between your child and those they are asking about. As a parent, recognize that this moment is a beautiful and powerful tool to help your child grow their understanding and respect.
3. Continue the chanting - We learned many powerful chants while we protested with our community. We didn’t stop chanting. We’ve continued to break into powerful and sometimes silly chants. We have developed a family chant; “Palmiottos united, will never be defeated.” We’ve managed challenging situations with “Si Se Puede” (Yes we can). What an amazing opportunity to infuse value while collaborating. Chanting together in unison also has the added benefit of giving us a boost of oxytocin.
4. Admit when you don't know - When you don't know, share with them your willingness to find information and to discover the answer! Values grow and deepen throughout our lives. Life lessons help us adopt new values and shed ones that are no longer supportive of the person we are trying to become. Acknowledging when you don’t know will aid your children in the lifetime practice of re-evaluating their values and developing a practice to increase tolerance. When we search for the answers with our children, it teaches them humility, resiliency, and the power of curiosity. When you don't know; say it "I don't know...I'm curious to find out."
5. Find a cause - Let your children raise money or get involved with a cause that your family is passionate about. Love & Autism has been our family’s cause. When Love & Autism launched their membership we had a family meeting to discuss how much each person would like to contribute. They both made monetary contributions and were told where their donations would go. Because my children are little their concept of money is still growing, so we also do activity-based volunteerism including both organized and just our family type of ideas. Do something fun like start a lemonade stand, donate your earnings. This way your children can learn that volunteerism is also fun and rewarding. Be sure to let your children know how their efforts fit in with your family values.
6. Teach positive self talk through a chant - Consider a clear message that will empower your children and that it is values first. Positive self-talk to overcome. We've started to develop our own chants made up by a 4 year old and 6 year old and finessed by Thor such as "Love, love, love....we love love." And hybrids of ones we learned while participating in marches "family together, we'll never be divided."
7. Using big words for big minds - My children were exposed to so many words such as unity, equality, rights, and humanity. I've realized the importance of explaining these concepts in reachable ways using our experiences. Too often, I think we become overly simplistic with children in a misguided attempt to help them understand. Yet, there is power in learning those words and it is never too early to start using this language with our children. Guide their understanding of these concepts by providing examples and experiences with your child that are helpful in illustrating these concepts.
8. Talk openly about your world views - Many people shy away from conversations with children about their values, assuming their child is too young or too engrossed in videos (insert other activities your child is passionate about here) to care. Hit pause and explain your thoughts and what’s important to you. Think of it as throwing out a seed. Not every seed has to grow or even land in the dirt. But throw out enough and something will eventually grow.
9. Make it a point to learn and share about history together - When I began to explain the purpose of the Women’s March we went to my daughter asked, "What are rights?" Having just learned about Martin Luther King Jr. I built on what she knew already and used scaffolding to help her understand this new word and what rights the people of today still need to fight for. I talked about the history of the Women’s March and how women, among others in our society, had to fight for the right to vote and go to college. That each right was painstakingly fought from courage, conviction, and passion. My daughter, who is always very thoughtful, asked "who was the first woman that went to college?" We then both learned about Elizabeth Blackwell. The conversations and comments this sparked were endless. But what came across in all of them was how much they were able to understand and reflect upon. Bring in history of your family, history of the world and connect it to today.
10. Show your love - More than any of these tips, showing our children that they are loved & worthy will allow them to grow into adults that know that they are good enough. Give your children the gift of seeing your heart. We may have limitations in money, time, and even patience, but we all have so much love in our hearts for our children. Let’s make sure that they know it.
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto