I mindlessly put a soda can in the trash and my younger son piped up, “Don’t you care about the polar bears?” Ah, they must be teaching about the environment at school this week. I promptly moved the can to our recycle bin and thanked him for reminding me. I also praised him for caring about the environment. To hear him talk about something other than Roblox was refreshing and I’m glad his heart was stirred for a cause.
It wasn’t hard for my son to call out my bad behavior, but I wonder if he knows how to confront someone who’s not his mom. What if the things our kids believe in are more controversial than recycling? Would they know how to speak up in a respectful way? Here are 5 ways to teach kids how to stand for what they believe in.
1. Help them put their thoughts into words.
If you want to stand for what you believe in, you have to be able to articulate your thoughts. The same goes for kids. They don’t need to be prepped for a debate, but having conversations about the topics they’re passionate about is great practice for being able to discuss them with people who disagree.
My friend’s family doesn’t drink because of a history of alcohol abuse. Three generations in a row have pledged to stay alcohol-free to try to break the cycle. My friend’s daughter has practiced telling her friends why alcohol isn’t the choice she’s making for herself or her future.
2. Educate yourself and them.
Kids naturally believe what they hear and read (hence the reason we have a bunch of toys that aren’t nearly as impressive as they appeared in the commercials). If you want your child to be confident in defending what they believe in, make sure they know the truth around it, not just random things they’ve read on the internet.
My mom taught world religions to high schoolers. I remember the day she came home talking about a boy who defended the Bible better than any adult she’d heard. He knew where the Bible comes from, how its history and world history coincide, and why he believes its inherent truth.
3. Show them other incredible kids.
It’s confusing for kids to hear some people say, “Stand for what you believe in!” at the same time as others say, “You’re just a kid. What do you know?” There have been plenty of junior achievers throughout history, so be sure to tell your kids about them to give them a boost in confidence.
The examples you show your kids don’t have to be kids who are passionate about the same things as them. Just pick kids who are courageously and creatively working for a cause. Some great examples are Mari Copeny, who’s known as “Little Miss Flint” and was only 8 when she wrote a letter to President Obama about the elevated lead levels in Flint’s drinking water; Kid President; and the prophet Jeremiah, who was only 17 when God called him.
4. Prepare them to encounter adversaries.
We tend to live and socialize with like-minded people, so your children might not know anyone who doesn’t think the way they do. The first time they encounter someone who is indifferent to their cause or opposed to it could be jarring if you haven’t prepared them.
Our freshman year of college, one of my friends from church got paired in the dorms with a roommate who was Muslim. It was a life-changing year for her. Because of their late-night conversations, she grew in her faith and learned about another faith and culture. Tell your kids it’s OK and even a good thing to meet someone who disagrees with them.
5. Remind them to speak with respect.
As soon as you show others disrespect, you’ve lost their attention and put up a wall. This is true even in conversations in marriage or between parents and kids. I assure you, had my environmentally-minded son looked at me and said, “Are you stupid, Mom? Why aren’t you putting the can in the recycle bin?” the conversation that followed would not have been about polar bears.
As soon as you show someone disrespect, you’ve lost their attention and put up a wall.
Similarly, if my friend had refused to speak to her roommate or been aggressive toward her and her beliefs, it would’ve made for a very long school year. We’ve all seen how unproductive disrespectful dialogue can be on Facebook or the comments section of articles right here on iMOM or our fatherhood site, AllProDad.com. So challenge your difference-maker to always lead conversations with respect and kindness.
How do you encourage your kids to stand up for what they believe in?