Children’s ability to sense the world is often underestimated due to their age. I see some parent groups and blogs tout “let kids be kids” as a way to shield children from the horrors of the world. On one hand, yes, we do have to be mindful of how information and real life events are shared. On the other, the easiest way to raise privileged children is to remove them from opportunities that would nurture their empathy and sense of justice just because they are not directly impacted.
I knew it was important to talk to Alana (10) and Maya (7) about Palestine and had been trying to figure out how to even start. We were getting ready to participate in our first rally in support of a free Palestine back in October, and it seemed obvious that the girls needed to understand why we were going to be there. What I lay out here is how I initially talked to the girls, but please know that I am in no way an expert in the ongoing occupation, nor will I ever pretend to know everything as a parent.
And if you’ve read some of my posts before, you’ll also know that we try to keep Alana and Maya informed in ways that we feel make the most sense as their parents. Going into this initial conversation, both girls were already aware of racism, some systems of oppression, privilege, the struggles of Black and brown communities, and what it means to protest – to name a few.
As parents of color, we’ve been teetering between being honest about the shit happening in our communities and protecting them from nightmares and the very real realities of people who look like them. Sometimes Trevor and I disagree on how much to share and how much to save for a later time. Just as important to us to keep them informed, it’s also important for us to ensure the girls know Black joy and power and resistance.
A few adults in our lives have commented about us being overly “social justice focused.” I’ve also heard comments about me and Trevor being a little too vocal, while rolling their eyes – although I get those comments more so.
Photo above: "end the siege" and "let Gaza live" signs found in the Hilltop.
The thing is, a huge part of why we’re loud is because we want to model to Alana and Maya the kind of power their voices and actions have. We want to model for them the different ways we can stand up against injustices. With all that said, here’s how I started the conversation:
1. I was scrolling through Instagram and landed on a reel from a Black content creator sharing how she talked about Palestine/Gaza to her kids (unfortunately, the reel disappeared before I can save so I don’t have their IG handle or name). But I loved the way she described the history of Palestine in simple, kid-digestible ways.
I asked the girls to imagine that Maya has her own bedroom, where she is free to do whatever she chooses. Then Alana came around and said that Maya’s bedroom is now her own, but Maya could stay in bed and only her bed. Now imagine Alana telling Maya that she no longer had access to her toys, activities, clothes. And soon she couldn’t even have water or food or light.
At that point, Maya interjected, “but then I would die!”
Exactly! I proceeded to tell them how Palestinians have been concentrated in Gaza, which is basically an open air prison. Palestinians don’t have access to the basic necessities everyone needs. They have been told that they no longer belong in their homes and are subjected to cruel and inhumane practices. Palestinians are dying.
2. I made sure to talk about the Israeli government versus the Israeli people. I used parallels from when Trump was president and how many people opposed him. It was important for us that the girls understood that governments didn’t always represent the people.
“Remember when Trump was president and mommy and daddy were against everything he did? We protested against him, called him out, and did everything in our power to fight for a better government.”
“There is also a lot of people who supported Trump and believed in everything he did. That’s kind of what’s happening with Israel.”
I described how there are so many Israelis shouting in the streets to make their government stop killing Palestinians, and so many Palestinians demanding a ceasefire and to be freed. And they are joined by millions of people around the world calling for a free Palestine.
It was important for the girls to understand that people in power do not always make the right decisions. Sometimes they abuse that power to oppress and hurt people - especially Black and brown people.
3. I made clear that there is a genocide happening, and that generations of families were being killed by the Israeli government. Maya asked what a genocide is, and I started to talk about a family favorite, Avatar the Last Airbender. Alana then interjected with a “yeah how the Fire Nation killed all the Airbenders and there was literally one person left.”
“Exactly what the white colonizers did to Native Americans,” I added.
When appropriate, I find it helpful to draw parallels to shows, books or media that the girls have consumed. Avatar the Last Airbender is a show that we have watched over and over and over again. While it’s animated fiction, it’s been a helpful tool to talk about war, absolute power, grief and resistance. Seriously. Sometimes all I have to say to explain a big concept is, “remember when [insert scene]” and I’m met with a long “ooohhhhhh” from Maya.
4. I also use what they’ve learned at school to help the girls understand what’s happening in the world. This is particularly more helpful with Alana, whose teachers have been incredible about raising social justice issues. When I started this conversation, Alana’s class was talking about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Her understanding of what people have the right to paved the way for her quick recognition of the atrocities happening to Palestinians. To Alana, there was no question that attending the rally to call for a ceasefire was the absolute right thing to do.
Photo above: a copy of Alana's 5th grade social studies assignment about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
5. This wasn’t part of my initial conversation with the girls, but I have since encouraged the girls to always ask questions and be critical of what they hear. And while we sometimes have to look things up, I made sure the girls knew that their parents will always be open to discussion and talking through all the hard things happening in the world.
There are times when I question if the girls will retain everything we share…because it’s just so much. But when I hear Maya, weeks after that first rally, chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” I can’t help but feel pride.
They may not remember every single detail of what I tell them, but I know modeling what it means to be informed and to fight is the right thing to do. We know that they’re watching; we know that they’re listening. This is all part of how we know to love on them.