What have you taught your kids about prejudice? Maybe you read them James 2:1-4. Perhaps you have told them all people are equal in the eyes of God. If you are really intentional, you may have had discussions about how they are to treat everyone with love – no matter who they are.
If you asked your kids how they would react if they came across people treating someone with prejudice, they would probably tell you all of the absolutely correct things they would do. Studies have shown though, when placed in a real life situation, hardly anyone reacts in the godly ways they claim they would. Most sit quietly by without saying or doing anything.
There are some concrete things you can do with your kids to improve the chances your children will treat everyone equally. You can raise kids who are the few who actually do what they think they will do when around others treating those who are different from them poorly. Your children can learn to serve and share their faith with others with the same godly empathy and love Jesus modeled for us.
There are a lot of things you can do to help your children treat everyone the way God expects from us. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Teach your children to greet everyone equally. Stranger danger aside, your children should naturally and immediately approach any new child at church or school. This will take practice. If your child is shy or introverted, this will take a lot of practice. Focus on having them greet the new person warmly – with a smile and even a firm handshake. Teach them to look the other people in the eyes while talking with them. If your children tend to avoid certain people because they are “too” different, remind them about Abraham entertaining “angels unaware”. Abraham welcomed strangers into his tent and fed them a wonderful meal – having no idea at the time they were really angels sent from God. It’s highly unlikely the people your children are uncomfortable around are actually angels, but repeating that phrase often reminds kids (and adults) God is watching and wants us to treat everyone the same.
- Train your children to be aware of “touch”. I have had numerous people tell me they can often tell someone is prejudiced, because they touch them as if they are afraid of what may happen when they touch their skin. Have your kids practice nice firm handshakes. (It will help them in lots of other ways to have mastered this skill.) Talk about how different people’s skin may feel different (think about a baby’s skin versus that of a ninety year old), but we need to shake or hold hands the same way with everyone. (This skill will be really difficult for shy kids as frankly, they don’t want to touch any stranger.)
- Help your children practice asking questions to “seek to know”. One of the best ways to combat prejudice is to find the things we have in common with each other instead of the differences. Often if someone looks or acts different to us, we will not even ask the questions necessary to realize this. We immediately widen the gap between us and the other person – the beginning of prejudice. Teach your children to ask appropriate questions to anyone they meet. Have them focus on questions most likely to discover things they have in common. If they notice differences they don’t understand, most people will be happy to explain them – IF they are asked about them in respectful ways.
- Explore differences with your children in an attempt to make them areas of commonality. Food is one fun way of doing this. Multiple mission trips to Mexico have made us huge fans of all sorts of foods originally new to us. Music, art and theater are other fun areas to explore. We have a large population of people originally from India in our area. I started watching Bollywood movies out of curiosity and now love a lot of the music and dance. Encourage your children to have at least a functional tourist fluency in multiple languages. In my experience, most people appreciate it when you at least attempt to speak their language – especially if you are visiting their country. Making something which would have initially been a difference (for example the foods we like) into something we have in common, is an easy way to immediately beginning closing the gap between your kids and others.
- Invite people who are different from your family to your home. Or take all of the kids to the playground or the zoo together. Having shared experiences is another way of narrowing the gap between your children and kids whom they think are different. Make sure to make the group very small in an attempt to increase interaction. If the group gets larger than two or three, kids can sub-group and will tend to do that on perceived similarities or differences.
- Have your children read books about people they may not have an opportunity to meet at this point in their lives. In my next post, I will share a few books our daughter and I have enjoyed reading over the years. Some things your children will never have in common with some of the people they meet. Understanding what life has been like for those people though, can help your kids develop an understanding and appreciation for them. Approached carefully, that understanding can also help shorten the gap instead of widening it.
Teaching your children to treat everyone the way God would is a process. If we are honest, we all still struggle with it under certain circumstances. Being intentional about training your children though, can help them be the godly servants and faith-sharers God wants them to be.