Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen impressive, perhaps unprecedented displays of youth activism across the continent. Across the USA and Canada, teens and adult allies came together for mass school walkouts and the March For Our Lives to lobby for gun control.
Regardless of where anybody stands on the gun control issue, there’s no denying the power of kids when they come together to raise awareness for a cause they believe in. As global citizenship, problem solving and inquiry become increasingly important as we plan for our future world, there’s no better place to introduce the concept of change agency than within the home.
This is not the same thing as raising our kids to think the same way we do, and support the causes we support — it’s about nurturing a mindset of questioning, caring, and then helping your child find ways to act on those feelings to make the world a better place. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Give them opportunities to problem solve.
When something is wrong, it can be almost automatic to jump into ‘solution mode’ and solve your child’s problems for them. We do this because we love them and don’t want to see them struggle, because as adults we have developed problem-solving skills. But children can also quickly develop excellent problem solving skills if given opportunities to practice. This concept is emphasized in the inquiry-based learning models we’re starting to see more of in schools and alternative education today. The sooner your child learns this mindset, the better able they will be to react to dilemmas when you are not around.
Of course, you will need to provide guidance and support if they are struggling with a solution, but see what they come up with first and then talk through the idea together.
Give them meaningful choices.
From a young age, involve your children in decision-making. This can start with simple choices during the preschool years, like ‘which sweater would you like to wear?’ or ‘Do you want to draw, or bake cookies?’ and as your child grows, increase in significance. Some options for inviting their input include:
- Where to go for a family trip.
- What to name a new pet.
- Projects around the house or yard.
- How to commemorate special events or milestones.
Including them in decision-making where appropriate helps cultivate their sense of agency as they grow older.
Invite children to participate on their own terms.
Children need more ways to participate meaningfully in our society. You can play a role in this by facilitating opportunities for your child to be included and get involved in activities, organizations and events that they’ve expressed an interest in.
If your child has an interest that isn’t supported at their school, encourage them to create their own opportunity. Ask permission to start a lunchtime club. Or maybe your child has noticed litter on the beach or in a park—suggest that they form a Clean Up Crew with other kids from the neighbourhood. Show them that there’s always an opportunity to create change their way.
The next time you are planning a family party or function, ask your child for input and give them a meaningful role in the event like assisting with food prep, planning the menu, setting up the house or making invitations. Then, let them do their job and resist the urge to micromanage. It’s opportunities like these that will give your child the self-confidence to roll up their sleeves and participate in their broader community.
Let your child have a voice, then listen!
In many situations we prepare our kids to speak out but don’t prepare adults to listen to the unique wisdom that they possess. Take the time to listen carefully to your child and consider their point of view. When possible, gently encourage other adults to do the same.
Giving your child ‘the floor’ during discussions allows them to share their thoughts, giving them confidence, but also introduces a new perspective into the conversation. It can be quite amazing to discover the ideas and solutions that live inside a child’s mind. Pay attention—it might just be the best idea in the room.
For more on how to raise a little activist of your own, check out our FamilySparks course Raising Global Citizens: Inspiring Kids to Give Back.