Raising Socially Conscious Kids Through the Teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While watching my usual CBS News programming on my apple TV, I came across a very touching story about an African American couple who had booked a honeymoon at the Mt. Airy Resort in the Poconos only to be turned away upon arrival for being black. Now this was 1957, during the early stages of the civil rights movement. This experience then led the groom to the side of Dr. Martin Luther King, where he helped pave the way for civil rights in America.
What was most surprising about this story however, was not that this couple had to endure discrimination during a moment in their lives that should have been filled with love and memory-making, but that over sixty years later their story would have moved a group of fifth graders to write letters to the Mt. Airy Resort asking for a honeymoon do-over.
Listening to these unassuming fifth graders express their feelings of empathy and actually act on it was moving and it made me think about how I, as a mother could instill in my own kids this type of social awareness and consciousness.
First off, what does social consciousness mean? According to the Collins Dictionary, social consciousness or social awareness, is "the state of being aware of the problems that affect a lot of people in society, such as being poor or having no home and wanting to do something to help these people."
During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King gave meaning to social consciousness as he fought for equal rights for blacks in America. His teachings were centered on nonviolence and unconditional love for human kind. He believed that all people deserved to be treated fairly and equally no matter their color, race, creed or class. In 1964, during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize one of his most memorable phrases was, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
As parents raising children in a world where the lines between right and wrong and what is socially acceptable or unacceptable become blurred, it is our duty to ensure that we instill positive values in the delicate minds of our children from a very early age. According to Parent Toolkit, the pre-k stage is a great time to begin building your toddler's social awareness. You can do this by setting an example and by being supportive. As your child continues to socialize and interact with other children and adults they will slowly begin to develop their social skills.
Here are 5 things you can do to help raise more socially aware children:
1. Teach Non-violent Conflict Resolution
Solving conflict in a non violent way was key to the teachings and beliefs of Dr. King. He believed in negotiation and dialog as a more effective way for solving conflict. We too should teach our kids from early the methods for reaching resolutions during conflict. We can teach our kids not to use anger or violence as the answer to solving their issues but rather to communicate issues clearly and to find a means for resolving them. Teach them to try to focus on the positives and to seek understanding of the other party's point of view and to find ways to use that as a strength for negotiation and coming to terms with an agreement for moving forward. A big part of our children being able to solve conflict in a positive manner lies in their ability to control their anger and emotions in stressful situations. Your own approach and behavior in the home and in public as it pertains to conflict solving is key to your children's socialization. So be mindful to always set the example.
2. Commit to Community Service Activities
Teaching your child that there are people in the world less privileged than they are is an important step to opening their awareness to the less fortunate in the world. Homelessness, hunger and poverty were the three evils that Dr. King fought to eradicate. Volunteering at a community center or homeless shelter is a great way to introduce your kids to the importance of service and helping others. It is also how they too can help better the lives of others and help make a difference. Though this can be a delicate experience for younger kids, if you choose not to physically get them involved in volunteerism just quite yet, then start by explaining to them that you are giving their toys or clothes to a child who is in need and have them help you choose and then pack the toys and clothes that will be given away.
3. Expose Your Child to Current Events
Children are a lot smarter than we think and if we do not foster an environment for open conversation then we leave our children exposed to possibly learning incorrect information from others, or growing up to be completely disconnected from reality. It is important that when significant current events are happening in the world around us, that we encourage our children to sit with us while we watch the news and allow them to ask questions. We can also start the conversation by asking their thoughts on what is happening and explaining in an approachable manner what these events mean and why they are happening. If the topic is particularly scary or sensitive it is important to ask your child how he or she feels and provide a sense of comfort and ease while still explaining the matter at hand.
4. Foster an Evironment of Love
Dr. King's vision for a Beloved Community was one delved in universal love, peace, understanding and tolerance. He once said, "Love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred" in the hopes that the entire world would live in peace, unity and prosperity. Some of you may think that this is nothing but a Utopian dream, but it does not have to be. Change can begin with you and me and can continue through our children if we instill the right thoughts and values in them from an early age. Dr. King's beliefs were intrinsically woven in his Christian beliefs. If you are a believer in the Bible like me, the teachings of Christ are also a great place to start. 1 John 4: 18 says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Much of the disasters of the world today are centered around fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change and fear of different. If we teach our children how to love themselves and others then half the battle is done. If we teach our children tolerance through love, peaceful conflict resolution, and open their eyes to the realities of the world from an early age, then we are each setting the stage for well rounded, emotionally healthy, caring adults who are not afraid to do the right thing or stand on the side of right for change.
5. Teach Your Child to Stand up for a Cause
An important side to raising socially aware children is in teaching them the importance of standing up for what they believe in no matter what anyone thinks or says and that living their truth is the right thing to do. Children who learn to stand up for a cause grow up to be game changers in the world and help make their communities and the wider world a better place. Teach them about activism and about those, who like Dr. Martin Luther King, made a difference in the world by standing up for a cause they believed in. Show them that there are people who are making a difference in the world and that they can make a difference too.
6 books that teaches kids social consciousness https://www.forewordreviews.com/articles/article/6-kids-books-teach-social-consciousness/