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 (Manna 31: Many Nations - One Church)
Our Children and Discrimination
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AROur Children and DiscriminationHow should we respond if our children come to us with teary eyes, telling us how others have made fun of them for being different in some way?We all hate to be discriminated against, and we never think that we ourselves discriminate against others. Sometimes however, we usually are not aware when we discriminate against others. A single careless word or act can cause a lot of harm to someone, and that is why we need to be careful when we deal with others, regardless of how different they may be from us. We need to teach our children not to discriminate but to show the love of Jesus to the unloved of our society.

We see it everywhere: in our government, our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods even in our homes. It's discrimination.

"Discrimination" sounds like such a bad word. We all hate to be discriminated against, and we never think that we ourselves discriminate against others. Generally, we know right away when we are being discriminated against: when others treat us unfairly because of our gender, race, nationality, religion, education, disability, physical appearance, social or economic background, or whatever it is that sets us apart. However, we usually are not aware when we discriminate against others. A single careless word or act can cause a lot of harm to someone, and that is why we need to be careful when we deal with others, regardless of how different they may be from us.

As parents, not only is it important to have a positive attitude toward people who are different from us, but we also have the responsibility to teach our children this important value. Using biblical examples and principles as a guide, this article will discuss how we can help our children deal with discrimination in a positive way.

Helping Our Children Deal with Discrimination

Most of us have been victims of discrimination at one time or another. Growing up, I felt that others looked down on me because I was shy and did poorly in school. When my family moved to various countries, people would make lewd racial remarks or even physically tease me. I remember the terrible self-pity I carried around inside when people mistreated me, because all I could do was ignore them. Later, as I slowly came to understand myself and the world around me, I found it easier to deal with unpleasant incidents of discrimination.

How should we respond if our children come to us with teary eyes, telling us how others have made fun of them for being different in some way? Our immediate response may be anger at the aggressor, or pity for our beloved children. But what our children need most at that moment is our sympathy and guidance to restore their positive self-image.

Building a Positive Self-image through Love

There is no way we can prevent our children from encountering discrimination, even in the most controlled environments. But what we can do as parents is help our children develop a positive self-image even before they are exposed to it. First of all, our children need to be convinced that God and their parents love them just as they are. While we make every attempt to mold our children to be more Christ-like, we need to remind them that regardless of how different they may be from others, they are precious to God and to us.

When we help our children develop a positive self-image, it will lessen or eliminate the hurt of discrimination because they will understand that words cannot change who they really are inside. Furthermore, a positive self-image in oneself builds the foundation for a positive attitude about others. People who do not feel loved cannot love others.

For children who are especially sensitive and are often picked on, we need to be extra sympathetic toward their situation. You can validate their hurt feelings by telling them, perhaps, your own experiences of being teased. Let them know that while it is natural to feel bad, we should not cocoon ourselves in self-pity. Tell your children how precious they are in many ways, to God and to you. Finally, you may want to rehearse with them what to do if something similar happens to them again.

Avoiding Discriminating against Others

Because children learn about God from what we do more than from what we say, they will expect us to model God's unconditional acceptance. This means that we should always avoid stereotypical labeling or name-calling ourselves, especially toward our own children. We should never underestimate the power of words. If children hear enough of a derogatory label (such as "lazy," "stupid," or "dumb"), they will eventually believe it and start to act like the "label" Labeling only damages children's self-images, and it actually encourages them to continue the same misbehavior. At the same time, it also teaches them that it is okay to label others too.

When our children misbehave in a way that may tempt us to label them, we need first to find out the cause of their misbehavior. An effective way to do this is simply to listen. Very often we can find out a lot about our children just because we're willing to listen. After we better understand why they are behaving in such a way, we can find a more appropriate alternative to correct the misbehavior.

Teaching Our Children to Appreciate Each Other

Genesis 11 tells us that God caused the descendants of Noah to scatter from one place by confusing the common language. Thus, there came about the many races and cultures in the world today.

So how can we help our children appreciate people who may not only look different from us, but also have very distinct cultural traditions? The first step is to help our children focus on our many similarities, rather than our differences.

Everyone Has a Soul

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

So great was the love of God that He indiscriminately offered His salvation to every living soul who is willing to believe in Him. God cares about our souls first, because that is what will last forever. We should constantly remind ourselves and our children that God loves each and every person's soul, so we should always do our best to care for another's soul no matter how different that person may look on the outside. Our God is a God of all the people (Rom 3:29).

Everyone Is a Sinner

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."I (Rom 3:23).

Help your children understand that despite the differences in ethnic make-up, deep down inside we are all very much alike. For one thing, the Bible tells us that we are all sinners, and we all need God. We may be tempted to stereotype people and make comments like, "People from ___________ country are so lazy (or sly, stingy, dangerous, unclean, etc.)."

Just because you may have experienced two bad apples, it doesn't mean that the whole batch is bad. In each race or culture, there are always some good people and some bad people. No one race is better than another race, because in the eyes of God we are all the same.

Everyone Has the Same Basic Needs

"...God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Mt 5:45).

All of us have the same basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Everyone needs air, water, food, and shelter. Everyone needs human affection and love. And everyone needs Jesus, because all of us will face God's judgment one day (Rev 14: 6-7; 20:12). Regardless of who we are, God provides all of this freely. People may express their needs and emotions differently, but God understands that those needs are all the same. We should teach our children that, like our Lord Jesus, we too should understand the basic needs of people and try to provide for them when we can.

Encouraging Our Children to Love the Unloved

It is easy to notice differences between various races or cultures. However, people within the same race or culture also have many differences among themselves. Unfortunately, people do not always appreciate each other's differences. There are some differences that people may prize or favor (i.e., being beautiful, wealthy, or famous), but there are some differences that people may despise (being physically or mentally handicapped, overweight, or too short or too tall).

But Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mt 9:12). Oftentimes we read about how Jesus was the friend of the "social outcasts" of His time. He had compassion for all of those who came to Him, and He healed those who had diseases. He even touched lepers to make them well (Mt 8: 2-4). Jesus dared to associate with tax collectors and "sinners" because He cared more about their souls than what others said about Him. Jesus saw the need to love those who were unloved.

We should follow His example and teach our children to show the love of Jesus to the unloved of our society. We can do this by helping those who are less fortunate whenever the opportunity arises. For example, we can bring our children to visit someone who is in the hospital, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or make it a habit to donate extra belongings to charity organizations. Or it can be as simple as inviting a neglected church member home for dinner. This shows our children that a little bit of concern can go a long way.

Children are such precious gifts from God. We wish we could protect our innocent children from all the evils of this world, but we should never forget that the best protection comes from their Heavenly Father, who loves them even more than we do. The key lies in leading our children to a deep relationship with the mightiest Protector of all. Equip your children with godly principles so that they know the right thing to do. Above all, pray with and for your children, so that God can give them the wisdom to handle any difficulty and to glorify His name.

Children are such precious gifts from God. We wish we could protect our innocent children from all the evils of this world, but we should never forget that the best protection comes from their Heavenly Father, who loves them even more than we do. The key lies in leading our children to a deep relationship with the mightiest Protector of all. Equip your children with godly principles so that they know the right thing to do. Above all, pray with and for your children, so that God can give them the wisdom to handle any difficulty and to glorify His name.

"Family Altar" is dedicated to providing practical, biblical insight for parents who face the challenge of raising a family in today fast-paced and varied society. Please direct comments on this article or questions about parenting to family.altar@tjc.org.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church
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