After an extremely contentious election season, filled with hostile words and news broadcasts that you may have had to turn off when kids were in the room, it’s time for our country to move forward together. However, as we enter a period of transition, it can be confusing for our children, who might not understand what’s happening around them. Your girl might be anxious, scared, or just have questions about what she’s seeing and hearing, and as a parent you want to help. So where do you start?
“Now more than ever, we have to stand together as one people, one nation—regardless of our opinions, race, religion or beliefs, gender, who we love, what language we speak, or where we come from,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “But unity doesn’t mean abandoning the things that make us different from one another, and it doesn’t mean standing by or looking the other way in the face of bigotry and hatred. Real unity is what you get when a lot of very diverse people come together to form one complex yet seamless whole. It’s about equality, inclusiveness, and dignity—values I think we as parents all hope to instill in our children.”
Your inclination might be to avoid the topic, but it’s incredibly important to take her concerns seriously. Address them in an age-appropriate way. It’s even okay to share that you’re feeling uncertain as well—both adults and kids often do during times of transition and change.
Moving forward together takes leadership, and not just from one person. We all have a role to play. Here are a few ways you and your girl can lead:
Because of who you are, what you look like, where you come from, and what you believe, you might not have a problem being accepted in your town or community. But that’s not true for everyone. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes—perhaps the neighbor who practices a religion different from yours or the new girl at your girl’s school who moved here from a different country. Are they made to feel welcome in your community? Do they have the same sense of belonging that you do? If you don’t think so or aren’t sure, reach out in kindness. Encourage your daughter to invite a classmate who gets picked on to eat with her at lunch. Knock on your neighbor’s door and invite them to an upcoming block party or holiday event. It’s about being big-hearted, and it’s easier than you might think.
You or your girl might feel alone in wanting to bring people together, but chances are, there are many people around you who feel the same. So be brave and challenge yourself to speak up when you witness an act of injustice or hear people speaking disrespectfully of others. Let your girl see you doing so. Chances are, once you’ve vocally supported what’s right, others will quiet or perhaps even join you in speaking up. And you’ll feel good about having stood up for your beliefs.
Everyday acts of kindness go a long way toward making unity a reality. But there’s a lot more we can do. With your girl, find an organization that supports the rights and wellbeing of a group that might be marginalized. Donating money is a great way to contribute if your family has room in the budget—but giving your time and presence can be just as, if not more, meaningful. It’s also a tangible demonstration of your values to your daughter. You and your girl will feel empowered knowing you’re supporting change and addressing a crucial need. Also with the added pluses of making new friends and learning about your community. And the group you volunteer with will certainly appreciate having you on its team.
Remember, doing the right thing is rarely synonymous with doing the easy thing. Taking a stand for unity will be hard at times. There are people who feel threatened by those who are different from themselves. There are individuals who think only their way matters, or that some people should be valued over others. Tell your girl that it’s absolutely okay and understandable to feel fearful, anxious, and sad when faced with hateful, exclusionary language and ideas. Those emotions are what make us human, and she shouldn’t be embarrassed to let people know she’s feeling them.
Encourage your girl to own her feelings and channel them into courageous and compassionate action. Because action, both small and large, brings real change. Remind her how much courage her favorite heroines from books and movies had to have in order to create a better world. For example, in Harry Potter when Hermione was afraid. The Death Eaters specifically hated people like her—but even in the darkest of times, she never stopped fighting for others who were also being treated badly. If your girl needs a little motivational boost, pick a book or movie to share with her. One that demonstrates the everyday or historic courage and heroism of its characters. Seeing how others have overcome challenges will help your daughter see that she can do the same.
While none of us can snap our fingers to create instant unity, we can stand together for what’s right. It will take time and a lot of work to bring people together, but we can and must start today. Small changes and gestures add up, bridging divides and strengthening communities.