7 Ways To Help Kids Fight Hatred

Written by Julia Haskins
Photo by Suzanne Tennant

As much as we like to shield our kids from hatred in all its forms — from homophobia to sexism and racism to Islamophobia — there’s no getting around the fact that injustice is all around us. And the last year has been particularly tough for many people. We’ve seen spikes in hate crimes and have watched dangerous bigots take to the streets, inciting violence and destroying our sense of peace and security.

These are scary times, no doubt. But we can resist, starting within our own families. We can teach our children how to respond to hatred and help them stand against injustice. Here’s how you can make that a reality:

Celebrate differences

You probably mean well if you claim that you “don’t see color,” but it does no good to deny the differences that make up our humanity. It’s also not realistic.

Wife-husband duo Melissa Giraud and Andrew Grant-Thomas created the group EmbraceRace with the underlying principle that race matters. Kids are forming opinions about race earlier than you may think, so give them the tools to talk openly about race and racism.

“The research bears out that if you’re trying to protect your kids by not talking about something, you’re not acknowledging that they’re actually talking about it every day,” Giraud says. “The lessons they’re learning are not very nuanced and are not necessarily the ones you want them to be learning about race.”

Whether you’re addressing race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other identity that makes people unique, don’t be afraid to recognize that we aren’t all the same. And that’s a good thing.

Acknowledge privilege

Recognizing your own privilege is no easy task. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge your advantages in relation to others, be it education level, citizenship status, income, or the countless other ways that we may be comparably better or worse off.

Consider how your and your family’s privilege will influence discussions of oppression and injustice. Just be careful not to conflate privilege with guilt. Remember that privilege is neutral in and of itself — it’s how you wield your privilege that matters.

“Guilt is not productive, and parents need to work through that on their own,” says Phyllis Fagell, licensed clinical professional counselor, certified professional school counselor, and journalist. “Don’t put your guilt on people who are marginalized, because that makes it all about you.”

Create a safe space for communication

Even if they don’t show it, your kids may be struggling to understand the bigotry they see on TV and the internet or encounter in school. Make yourself open to whatever fears or concerns your children may have so that they’re comfortable coming to you for guidance.

“Gentle probing questions such as, ‘What have you heard or seen about this?’ or ‘Who told you about it? What did they say?’ provide an opportunity to clear up misinformation and dispel rumors they may have heard from friends or social media,” says Jinnie Spiegler, director of communication at the Anti-Defamation League.

Every child is different, but you can take your kids’ ages and maturity levels into account when having conversations about bigotry, Fagell says.

“With older kids, parents can focus on both the individual and systemic ramifications of hate and what to do when they observe it in their community,” she says. “With younger kids, it makes more sense to keep the focus on the individual or perhaps on the classroom culture. Ask, ‘What does it do to your community when someone is made to feel they don’t belong?’”

Practice self-care

People of color, LGBTQ folks, Muslims, Jews, and other historically marginalized groups are no strangers to bigotry. But with increases in physical violence and hate speech toward the people who have long suffered under the weight of oppression, many families may be feeling especially drained right now.

“For many years, families of color have been talking about events like Charlottesville with their children,” says Dennis Chin, communications director at Race Forward. “This is a matter of survival for some of these families.”

Janine Gomez, leadership coach and middle school assistant principal at Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., saw “terrified” kids crying in the hallways after the 2016 presidential election. While some students didn’t understand the larger implications of the new administration, they did know that the adults in their lives were also hurting. That pain trickles down to the kids, Gomez says, which is why self-care is a necessity for all family members.

“This is a time where people really need to have human contact and human connection, so get off the phone, get off of all of that, and spend time with your children,” Gomez says. “Laugh with them, play outside. That’s what everybody needs right now.”

While you can’t control the hateful actions of others, you can help your family members feel loved and worthy.

“One crucial point parents can and should emphasize is that being a target is not about them, it’s about a greater unfairness in the world,” Chin says.

Don’t stop at one discussion

Discussions about hatred can’t begin and end with high-profile crises such as the terrorism over the summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. These aren’t just singular events; we need to talk about the greater historical, political, and social contexts in which hatred festers. We also need to approach each conversation as a starting point to unpack more complex topics, such as the intersections of oppression. This is more than just a talk.

“The talk is life,” says Jaime Grant, executive director of PFLAG National. “The talk is every day, depending on what [your kids] bring to you.”

A one-and-done chat about the latest demonstration of hatred isn’t sufficient, especially when there’s no shortage of examples to draw upon. We can’t ignore the manifold ways that hatred plagues our communities, as well as its deep roots in society. If we don’t address these problems, we inadvertently normalize them, Grant says.  

Move from talking to action

Make it a point to go beyond talking about injustice and do something about it. Help your children channel their empathy, sadness, or frustration into constructive everyday activism and show them that they are never too young to take a stand.

“While it’s important to talk about issues in the news with young people, it can also make them feel disempowered and hopeless, especially when complicated situations involving hate and social injustice occur,” Spiegler says. “Adults can play a vital role in instilling a sense of power and hope in young people — a belief that one person or a group of people can make a positive difference.”

There is no limit to the number of ways that you can help the young people in your life become active in social justice. Here are just a few ideas to get started:

  • Write letters to your elected officials about bigotry and hatred in your community
  • Attend a social justice-oriented protest or rally
  • Write letters of support to victims of hate crimes
  • Hold a fundraiser for a social justice-focused organization, especially one that has been a target of bigoted attacks
  • Talk to your local library about stocking shelves with stories by and about marginalized peoples or donate some of your own
  • Talk to the leaders in your place of worship about interfaith collaboration within your community
  • Invite classmates from different families for playdates or meals. You can even get the whole class involved in cross-cultural activities.

Of course, acts of virtue don’t have to be large in scale. Remind your kids that every day presents opportunities to show courage in the face of injustice.

Show that progress is possible

In the midst of a volatile sociopolitical climate, children need to see that there are, and always have been, victories on the side of righteousness. Every chance you can, point out the successes in the name of diversity, inclusion, and love. Be sure to highlight the achievements carried out by regular people, especially kids.

While there are people who do stand for hate and seek to cause harm, there are plenty of people who are doing good, even if that’s hard to see right now, says Grant-Thomas.

“This is an ongoing struggle,” he says. “People who are hated have survived this before.”

Tell your children the stories of people who, faced with every obstacle, have risen to the challenge and worked to create a more just world. Show them that they can also be part of that history.

“Every story of oppression is also a story of resistance,” Grant-Thomas says. “Be sure kids know that too.”

For more information, check out these resources:

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity, and Social Justice

EmbraceRace Tip Sheet

How to Talk to Kids About Race: Books and Resources That Can Help

Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

The Dos and Dont’s of Talking to Kids of Color About White Supremacy

Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice

The Conversation You Must Have With Your Kids Today

Talking to Children About Racial Bias


Julia Haskins is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. She is a reporter for The Nation’s Health newspaper at the American Public Health Association and a communications fellow at the advocacy group End Rape on Campus. Her writing has appeared in ReadersDigest.com, People.com, Parents.com, Healthline and more.

Suzanne Tennant is a freelance editorial, commercial and family photographer based in the Chicago area. She was a staff photographer with Sun-Times Media Company from 2006 to 2011. During that  time she won awards in the Illinois Press Photographers Association “Best of Photojournalism.” She has also been a freelance photographer in the Seattle area.

Copyright © 500 Pens. 

For Homeless Children, Lessons In Stability

Story by Susan Hoffmann
Photos by Gina Long

Every Wednesday, Lisa Rodriguez drives to a homeless shelter to tutor *Alma. When the weather’s nice, they sit outside on the wide front porch. “She likes to do science projects, so it’s perfect to be outdoors.”

Rodriguez is a tutor for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit School on Wheels. She’s one of roughly two thousand volunteers working with a nearly invisible population: children growing up homeless.

“These children are at an unimaginable disadvantage,” said Catherine Meek, executive director of School on Wheels. “Their families may move two or three times a year, uprooting the children, causing gaps in their learning.” School on Wheels removes barriers that keep these children out of school — tracking down lost records needed to enroll, filling backpacks with school supplies, and providing weekly one-on-one tutoring sessions.

The shelter where *Alma is tutored. Photo by Gina Long.

Volunteer tutors are at the heart of their program. Rigorously screened, they agree to a minimum one-year commitment. School on Wheels then matches them with a student, based on the volunteer’s skills and the needs of the student. “We know the better the match,” said  Meek, “the greater the long-term success.”

Mona Tse, another School on Wheels volunteer, has tutored 15-year-old *Martin for two years. Once a week, she leaves work and walks to the public library down the street.

“Mona helps me in stuff I need help in,” Martin said of his tutor. “She puts a lot of effort to help me strive.”

His school recommended the program to his mother as a way to keep him on track. His grades have improved with tutoring and he’s found acceptance at school. “I was just elected to the Associated Student Body,” he said. “I get to set up fun activities like pep rallies and dances.”

Mona Tse works with *Martin at a local public library. Photo by Gina Long.

This family had a specific need. “We didn’t have the internet,” Martin’s mother explained. They came to the library for a connection but still couldn’t keep up. “If you missed an online assignment or teacher report, you might slip behind by weeks.”

“Teachers assume you have electronics,” Martin said. “And if you tell them you don’t have them, they don’t believe you.”

For homeless families, acquiring the materials and skills to succeed in a digital learning environment is crucial for a child’s success. Many schools, like the one Martin attends, are setting aside textbooks, with their printed examples and worksheets, in favor of homework posted online. With Tse’s help, the family has become savvy with technology. “Mona has helped us stay on track. I’m so grateful for that,” said Martin’s mother.

Tse admitted her good luck being matched with Martin, who comes every week, eager to learn. She had volunteered before, she said, in high school and college, but had taken a break to establish her career. “I was itching to get back into the community,” she said. “I know I can only do so much, but having this impact on the community to help people, that’s something I wanted to be a part of.”

Last year, School on Wheels sent their volunteers to libraries and shelters and public places to tutor more than three thousand students across Southern California. But this effort is only part of a solution to a mounting emergency in this region, where rising rents and stagnant incomes are driving more people from their homes.

Tutor Lisa Rodriguez sets up a science experiment. Photo by Gina Long.

The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which records yearly changes in the homeless population, found a 23 percent increase in 2016. And in the San Gabriel Valley, where Alma lives, that number soared to 31 percent. Within those numbers, a startling one reveals a 41 percent increase in homeless children under the age of 18.

National studies have shown these children are likely to fall behind in school, underperform their peers, and likely drop out before completing high school. “That’s why we work so hard to keep them in school,” said Meek. But, she admitted, it’s hard to quantify the success of School on Wheels. “We’re working with such a transient community, with children of all ages and abilities. It’s hard to establish a baseline and then measure outcome.”

They rely, in part, on anecdotes, including this one. Meek agreed to tutor a little girl at a shelter. When she arrived the first time, she found the girl hiding under a table. “So, I joined her there, on the floor, and we read together.” This happened for many weeks. One day, the girl was sitting on a chair at the table, waiting for her tutor. “I call that a success.”

Angela Sanchez is a “graduate” of School on Wheels who went on to earn two degrees from UCLA. Photo courtesy of Angela Sanchez.

And so is the story of Angela Sanchez. During high school, her father lost his job and the two became homeless. Angela was struggling with calculus. She knew she had to pass the course to graduate. One of the shelters where they lived recommended School on Wheels, which matched her with a Ph.D. student in astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Yes, a rocket scientist!” Meek said. Angela passed calculus, was admitted to UCLA, and went on to earn two degrees from there. She founded the campus chapter of School on Wheels and now writes a blog about “homelessness, higher education and hope” called Poverty to Professional.

It’s not unusual for former students to become tutors for School on Wheels, or even join their board. Their firsthand knowledge of homelessness and poverty inspires them to help. For volunteers like Rodriguez, the hardships of her childhood played a part in her decision to tutor.

“I thought back on the people who helped me when I was little,” she said, “and I decided tutoring in my community was the right thing to do. I’ve found my purpose in Alma. I mean, a little Latina who likes science! How can I not want to spend my Wednesday evenings with her?”

*Names of children have been changed to protect their privacy.


Susan Hoffmann lives in California, where she writes personal essays inspired by her family. She has retired from a long career in art museum education, having written educational materials and taught classes for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She also wrote promotional materials for the California Institute of Technology and the Art Center College of Design, where she taught courses on modern art. Hoffmann’s work has been published by Literary Mama and Gravel; her essay “A Boy Like Mine” was a finalist in the Tenth Glass Woman Prize.

Gina Long believes photography is more about “translation than creation.” She’s been shooting for over 25 years and began her career with Court TV and, later, served as the Missing Child Producer at “America’s Most Wanted.” Long also produced broadcast documentary programs for Discovery Network and CBS. Today, she is the owner of The Unexpected Portrait in Southern California.

Copyright © 500 Pens. August 2017.