Over the weekend we hosted a lemonade stand with Faye and Silas and dear friends at one of our favorite neighborhood shops. The café, Poppy’s, generously provided the kids with a gigantic cooler of lemonade and for three hours the kids collected donations to send along to organizations helping families impacted by the current crisis at America’s southern border. (We raised $432.00!) The stand felt like such a sweet and positive way to get kids directly involved in making a difference for kids in need.
Here’s the thing: The kids get it.
These are complex topics in complex times, but over and again I’ve found that kids are really remarkable at understanding basic issues of social justice. Better, I’d venture, than most adults. And once again, I’m reminded that the onus is on me (and James)—and all parents—to have these conversations.
As always, we’ve found it most comforting to turn to books.
Faye and Silas’s caregiver, Zaina, is an immigrant from Syria. Like many Syrian immigrants, she came to the US to escape the turmoil of the Syrian civil war. This winter when I struggled with finding a way to discuss why Zaina can’t easily return to visit her family overseas, we read the very beautiful children’s book The Journey by Francesca Sanna. It follows the story of a young family that loses their father and is forced to leave their home. On their journey they encounter and escape from border guards. As the family makes their way farther and farther from home, the reader witnesses their hope in the face of the unknown. Heartbreakingly, the book also provided excellent context for the refugee crisis happening right now in our own country. Discussing family separation at the hands of the border patrol in the US was particularly poignant—and yes, even scary.
It wasn’t super easy to talk about. I worried I would frighten Faye unnecessarily. I worried I was saying too much. When she asked with a quivering lip if someone was going to separate her from her parents, I did my best to reassure her. What an incredible privilege. Speaking to an undocumented friend of ours this week—the mother of two children born in the US— it was clear that my hesitation about scaring Faye was nothing compared to the task our friend faces. None of us can remain silent.
Below are a few ideas for talking to kids about the current crisis, and getting them involved in efforts to help.
Read a book: If you haven’t sought them out already, there are so many inspiring Instagram accounts related to kid lit and I turn to them again and again. Many of them offered invaluable advice this week. The Bookworm Club offered particularly helpful guides for deep reading with kids about issues of immigration and justice in particular. It outlined specific ways for reading that’s aimed at truly understanding, dissecting, and interpreting books. (It’s not enough just to have the books on our shelves, we need to really read them and talk about them in order for the work to get done.) The Conscious Kid is another source of excellent and daily inspiration for me. It includes book recommendations as well as general encouragement to dig deep into issues of racism and social justice. If you’re looking for another place to start, Common Sense Media compiled this list of Books to Help Kids Understand the Immigrant Experience. Finally, this week our friends at Stories Bookshop recommended Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation.
Host a sale: Raising money through entrepreneurial endeavors is perhaps a uniquely American answer to feeling helpless, but the lemonade stand we worked on over the weekend felt so great. It was such a positive way to get kids involved, yes, but it also felt great to be a parent, out on the sidewalk, connecting to friends and neighbors and perfect strangers. The #StandforKids initiative was designed around last weekend in particular, but there’s no reason why we can’t make this the summer of charitable Lemonade Stands more generally. Lots of resources on the Stand For Kids site.
Draw pictures/Send letters: A family of three little kids set up shop at our stand on Saturday and drew pictures on countless postcards to send to kids separated from their families. It was heartrending and warming to watch them work so diligently to share a bit of goodwill with kids in pain. If you’ve got little ones interested in sending notes to kids who need them, you can direct them here: Families Belong Together / National Domestic Workers Alliance c/o Purpose 115 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10011.
Protest, together: A national day of action and protest is being planned for June 30, 2018. Find an event near you, talk to your kids about why you’re going, and if it feels right for your kid and your family, bring them along.
Talk (and mostly listen): A reader comment below reminded me that what might matter most of all is to listen to kids when they express their fears. I think most parents would agree that we’d love to think about childhood as time of innocence. The truth is that that’s only ever part of the story. Just like adults, many kids need to grapple with all kinds of things that might make them sad or fearful. For all things parenting, I often turn to Janet Lansbury. I found this episode: When Children Ask About Death (or Other Heavy Topics) to be really helpful. Her overarching point is that we should allow kids to feel their full range of emotions, instead of telling them not to be afraid or that they don’t need to worry. Common Sense Media also breaks this down in their series: How to Talk to Kids About Difficult Subjects. Finally, I’ve returned over and again to this episode of This American Life: Birds & Bees.
What else? What are you guys talking about in your families?