As a school counselor, the one thing I wish I could give my students more of is confidence. I work in a middle school, one of the most awkward times of adolescence. Girls compare themselves to other girls and boys feel bad if they don't have the newest tennis shoes.
As adults, we learn that things don't make a person. We wake up one day and learn the meaning of that old cliché, it's what's inside that counts.
Many kids (and some adults) have a hard time wrapping their brains around that concept. Even kids from well to do, well adjusted families. As parents, it's our job to teach our kids (and educators) how to love the skin they're in. Here are a few tips:
1. Compliment specifically, not just a generic good job compliment. Tell the child what part of what they did was good. Example: You showed good manners when you said excuse me after you burped! Wow, I like the way you colored in the lines on that picture! Thank you for apologizing when you hurt your sister's feelings. That was kind of you.
2. Immerse them in diversity. Now I know some of you are thinking, I live in a small town, how can I do this? Easy! Take your kids to a museum. Read about a holiday in another culture (Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year, etc) Try food at an authentic ethnic restaurant.
3. Discuss the hard stuff, don't just ignore. The older your children get, the more they may become aware of race relations in the news (school shootings, Black lives matter movement, racial tensions around the world, religious homicides, genocide). No matter your stance on these touchy subjects, talk about them with your children. They may not need a long explanation, but hearing from you gives them comfort.
4. Read, Read Read. I cannot say this enough, especially to parents of young children. This is your opportunity to instill a love of reading in them. Find out what your child's interests are. Read books about those things. As your children get older, find a chapter book to read together. Read a book, and then watch the movie that was adapted from the book.
5. Teach them to be sensitive to others. When I say others, I mean others with disabilities, handicaps, or from other cultures. I grew up on an Air Force Base, and this makes me more tolerant than most by default. You don't have to understand everything about a person to be kind.
6. If you have biracial kids, they may not be able to relate to you (or vice versa). Their peers may try to force them into a racial box they don't belong in. They will need you to validate that their mixed heritage is unique and they are special the way they are. When they are little, help them focus on the similarities they have with you, rather than the differences. For example, I tell my four year old that she has brown eyes and curly hair like me. I also tell her that she has brown hair like her daddy. Now she'll point out the similarities that she has with both grandmothers and her sister on her own.
Someone once told me that if parenting wasn't the hardest job I've ever done, I was doing it wrong. I'm here to tell you, it's definitely the hardest job I've ever done! For those of you without children, some of these same tips can apply in your school, church or community. Ha