The world that our children live in has the potential to be very different than the world that we are currently living in, but in order for that to happen, we have to help them to be better than we have been in the past. Microaggressions are still a big part of our culture, but there are ways to help our children so that they can become adults in a more accepting world.
1. Help Them Understand Microaggressions
The first step is to educate ourselves as parents. What are microaggressions, & how can we explain them to our children in an age-appropriate way?
According to Dana Grossman Leeman at Simmons School of Social Work,
… microaggressions are subtle, often nuanced, verbal or behavioral slights, snubs, or insults that can be intentional, but are often unintentional. They communicate negative, pejorative, and sometimes hostile messages to others solely based on their membership in a marginalized group. Microaggressions may devalue another individual’s sense of dignity and worth, may demean them on a personal or group level, and communicate that this individual is in some way “less than.” People are so embedded in context, and microaggressions reflect this, that the perpetrator may have no consciousness about what he or she has said, and the painful consequences of his or her unintended behaviors or words. These are everyday slights in conversation and behavior, but they sting.
We do not always have to go into a lot of depth when talking to our young children. We can explain things to them in a way that makes sense to them, & they will likely be able to relate to the situation & have examples of microaggressions they have seen or experienced in their own life.
2. Help Them Be Aware of Microaggressions
Once our children understand what microaggressions are, we can encourage our children to be aware of them in their daily lives. Chances are that you will also start to become more aware of them as well.
Being aware of microaggressions doesn’t mean that your child needs to point it out to others every time it happens, but you do want them to make note of it for themselves. Why? So that they avoid doing it in the future. So that they can identify potential consequences of it & how it makes others feel. It always helps to stop themselves short if a microaggression is about to come out of their own mouth.
3. Help Them Overcome Microaggressions Towards Themselves
Your child is likely to experience microaggressions directed towards themselves at some point.
Where are you from? You are so interesting looking.
You are good at math for a girl.
You look so handsome without your glasses.
When these types of things happen to your own child or their friends around them, they may be tempted to speak up, educate the other party, or even get angry now that they have a better understanding of microaggressions. But that is not the way to handle these situations. Unfortunately, many people do not understand the harm in their words, & there is a simple & calm way to address them.
Thank you. I love the way I look with my glasses on too… Plus I can actually see you with them on.
Thank you. My family is from all-over, but I was born here. How about you?
Thank you. Boy or girl, math is fun, & I work hard at it just like you.
4. Help Them Appreciate Differences
Human beings are automatically threatened by things that they do not understand & people who are different from themselves. We tend to be skeptical & mistrusting in unfamiliar territory, & we need to work to overcome that. We can help our child value & appreciate differences rather than being threatened by them.
An example of a microaggression is indicating color blindness in regards to race. It is a microaggression to deny the significance of a person’s race, ethnicity, culture, history, etc. It is okay to see color. Children see color, & that is a good thing!
We have the opportunity to teach our children that people are different & teach them why differences are important and beneficial. It is good that people have different strengths & weaknesses; & we can help our children value those differences in the people around them.
5. Help Them By Walking the Walk
Talking to our children about these issues is extremely important; however, it is more important for us to lead by example. We need to take all of the above steps & apply them to our own lives before we are going to make a big difference in our children’s lives.
Sometimes this can be very uncomfortable. It can be uncomfortable to talk about these topics. It can be uncomfortable to feel the responsibility to change. It can be uncomfortable to see how you have been hurting others (especially unintentionally).
I started this piece by essentially saying that our children have the ability to change the world they live in. But the reality is that we have to change our own world first.