Written by Stephanie Siam
Our children are suffering. They may not say anything, or they may say a lot. But they hear the news. They see the headlines. They catch the sideways glares in public. But they don’t understand. They don’t comprehend why:
“Why did the store clerk watch me while I walked around the gas station?”
“Why does the airport security always stop Mom when we go on a trip?”
“Why doesn’t Donald Trump want me in my own country?”
The knee-jerk reaction is to explain it all away by saying, “They’re wrong. They’re misinformed.” But that’s not good enough. It doesn’t get to the core of the issue.
And the core of the issue is hate. Hate bred by fear. Hate bred by violence. Hate bred by the need to be included in “us” vs. “them”.
Everywhere we turn these days, we’re bombarded with tirades of hate. Each news article is heavy-laden with comments that induce indigestion, made by people who have one thing on their mind: “us vs. them”.
It has become an almost daily exercise in patience and creativity for many Muslims. Should I wear this outside? Should I go to this place alone? Should I stop for gas in this neighborhood? Can I get a job? Will I find housing?
But even if we can’t change the reality of the way things are, we can strive to teach our children how to better deal with the world around them. And to do this, we have to start a “conversation”: the word that sends shivers down the spines of parents with kids of all ages. But it doesn’t have to be fear-inducing.
In fact, letting your child take the reins and lead the conversation is probably the best way to go about it. But you’re going to have to break the ice and bring up the topic.
In preparation for this article, I wanted to have a chat with my daughter about how she sees hate and what she understands about it. But I was at a loss for how to begin. So, driving back from a girls’ night out, I just flat-out asked her, “Do you know what hate is?”
In her precociously-snarky, 8 ½-going-on-30 tone, she answered, “Yeeeeeessss.”
I waited for her to define it for me.
“It’s when you really, really don’t like something.”
I was stumped. Somebody really needs to invent a GPS for parent-child conversations, but with one of those “You-Pick-the-Adventure” styles where you go a different direction based on the child’s response.
“Do you think it’s good to hate things?” I asked her.
“No. Probably not.” The conversation was going swell.
“Why do you think people hate other people?”
She was quiet for a moment. “Maybe because they’re different? Or maybe because they did something to them.”
Succinct and logical, I didn’t see the conversation going much further. That’s when it occurred to me: How could I have a fruitful conversation with my child about hate when she has no concept of what hate actually is?
She doesn’t hate anything. And, I mean, anything.
It’s been said before, and this is certainly no epiphany, but children are not born with hate. They are not born with prejudices, discriminatory feelings or grudges.
Yet while the concept of hate and its purpose eludes them, the actuality of hate and its presence doesn’t necessarily pass them by.
Of course, the most important part of the conversation with your children is answering the question: What do I do when I come face-to-face with hate?
And each potential situation deserves its own game plan when teaching your children how to deal with hate.
The following are starting points for helping your child deal with hate in various situations. Please feel free to adjust, scrap, utilize, or build upon them to create effective and worthwhile strategies.
Let your children know that when a police officer or any other law enforcement officer approaches them, the key is to remain as calm as possible. Speak politely and truthfully, and have respect. Make sure they understand law enforcement officials are not the enemy.
Let them know that if they are accused of any wrongdoing, they should ask for their parents. Explain that they cannot be questioned without a guardian present. Make it clear that the law is there to protect them, and you will also protect them by asking to communicate with a lawyer for assistance.
Make sure they know that they should never sign anything without letting you read it.
Here is a great resource about your child’s rights and how they should handle interactions with law enforcement.
Tell your kids that if they are ever refused service, they should tell you and you can report the behavior to the Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce in your city (Google: “Chamber of Commerce + your city”).
If the store is a chain or franchise, contact the headquarters and notify them of the incident. Finally, let your children use social media to their advantage. Let them know that they have a voice and can demand change.
This topic is the most difficult for parents. Some parents will say to fight fire with fire. Some say to stand your ground. Some will even say turn the other cheek. While all of these approaches are subjective to parenting styles, we can give our children advice on how to deal with the threat of violence without escalating the incident.
Let your children know that if they feel threatened in public they have several options.
They can call the police. They can withdraw from the situation and find a person in charge. Tell them they can even draw attention to the situation by raising their voice and telling the aggressor to “STOP” in a loud, commanding tone.
Additionally, encourage your kids to always stick with a friend or group of friends in public. It may sound antiquated, but there is truly safety in numbers.
Here are some great resources about teaching your child how to protect him or herself.
The important thing to tell children about being attacked verbally, called names, or bullies is that they don’t have to take it. While physical violence should be addressed directly with the authorities, sometimes it is much harder to fight verbal violence – as these days it takes many forms (texting, social media, etc.).
As parents, you’ll want to jump to the rescue. However, you may want to give it a little time to see if learning and adjustment can take place between your child and another child (adults don’t usually verbally attack children).
Let your child know that he or she should tell you when they are being taunted or are afraid, and that you will take action if the bullying doesn’t stop. If the verbal abuse persists, let your children know that you will involve the bully’s parents, school admin or other authorities (depending on the location).
Here is some great advice on teaching your child about bullying and how to handle verbal abuse.
It’s hard to believe, but some children have recently found themselves the subject of mockery, discrimination, or bias in their own classrooms – by their teachers.
Tell your children they should ask to go to the principal’s or guidance counselor’s office if their teacher is mocking their ethnicity or religion. Once at the principal’s or guidance counselor’s office, they should report what the teacher said or did to them that made them feel targeted.
Once they have done this, tell them to ask to call you. Make them understand that teachers should be objective and not let their political or personal feelings get in the way of their responsibilities.
Finally, let your children know what their rights are as Americans. This is very empowering for them to understand that they are protected and valid citizens deserving of protection of the law.
Muslim children are being exposed to and have become the object of hatred. This is a fact of our lives that needs to be addressed by parents. To make our children feel some amount of safety and sanity in an uncertain world, talk to your children about the hate they have or may face in the future. And above all, let them know that hate doesn’t have to define them.
Not every person you meet is going to like you. Not every person you interact with is going to be polite. But it that does not mean that we stop pleasing Allah, having good manners, and making sure that we do not allow oppression or injustice.
We must teach our children to fight hate with love. To bridge gaps with education and mutual compromise and understanding. To inspire within them a spirit of change by helping them to see what the world could be, instead of what we think it should be.
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