Stop for a moment and think about the special relationships you had with friends from different ethnic backgrounds during your younger years: in childhood, elementary school, high school, or college. Have you ever considered as an adult how or why you developed those friendships? What drew you to those individuals? Was it their skin color, hairstyle, or an accent? Or was it a smile, a shared interest, or simple proximity?
Prompted by COVID-19, millions of young preschool-aged children said goodbye to their classmates and friends in the spring. Children commonly report “missing my friends” as a struggle during this health crisis in America and around the world. It saddens me to think of special friendships — established among children regardless of culture, ethnicity, social, and economic backgrounds — fading. Daily hugs, coloring together, playing on the playground… all now absent from their lives. While Zoom and other digital means are sustaining millions of these valuable friendships, too many are lost because children lack access to such technology.
Children’s friendships — regardless of ethnicity, neighborhood, cultural beliefs, or economic status — have been fractured due to current events through no fault of their own. To make matters worse, scenes of racism and protests have the potential to shape young children’s perspective of those friendships. It is important for adults to help children understand that what they see portrayed in the media should not affect their friendships.
Here are a few suggestions:
Read children’s books to your child about justice, peace, and friendship.
Share stories about some of your longest friendships, including examples of good times and tough times you’ve been through with your friends.
If you have a friend from a different background, use FaceTime, Zoom, or other visual streaming tools to chat, and let your child engage in the conversation.
Have a conversation with your child about his or her friends. Encourage your child to draw images of friends from school, and engage him or her in conversation about the drawing.
Talk with children about words in the media (protest, peaceful, riot) using simple language they can understand.
Engage daily in conversations about the importance of friendships, what it means to be a friend (agreeing and disagreeing, respecting one another, apologizing and forgiving, and more).