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What to do when our kids’ interests challenge us

Recently I talked with a friend about how her white, middle class, 7yo is playing prison and police a lot. He doesn’t seem to respond well to her trying to talk with him about it. I shared that I have very similar issues with my 8yo (also white, middle class) but with playing with guns and video games with guns. See my previous post on this topic. Here are 10 points from our conversation I thought would be helpful to share:

  1. Playing is how kids process all the information they are receiving. And they are receiving a lot these days - just as we all are.

  2. Play over talk!! Get in there and play with our kids, even when it is uncomfortable for us. Be the person who is imprisoned, be the jailer, be the bystander - explore these ideas with kids in a playful way instead of a lecture.

  3. It is important we recognize when we are embarrassed by our kids because of what others might think. To the best of our ability we should practice detaching our ego from our kids behavior and what it says about us as parents.

  4. Every child brings much more with them than we can see - evolution, past lives, cultural gender norms, personality, and their soul’s future.

  5. It is important (and hard!) not to project what this kind of play means about the child and about their future. They need to live their own lives, and we have no idea what twists and turns their lives will take. Playing police does not mean they will become police, it means that they are trying to sort through the limited info they are getting about police.

  6. Empathy comes later for kids, and we can provide building blocks now through the ways that we engage with them and others.

  7. The comic book "Real Cost of Prisons" is good for kids 9 and older. Check it out online.

  8. Unconditional love is the most important thing we can give our kids, especially in those moments when our kids are really pushing our buttons. When I am most challenged and my desire to yell, lecture, or shame is at the forefront I remove myself from the situation. I meditate on the love I have for my kids and the whole and beautiful being that they are. Then I return to them and am able to engage in a much more creative and supportive way. When I fail to do this, I end up making mistakes that I have to apologize for (which is also teaching them valuable lessons, so I've mostly stopped beating myself up for my mistakes).

  9. The last thing I want is for my kids to feel bad about themselves. So I talk alot with my kids about the mistakes that I make, and how that doesn't make me bad. I talk about how I see myself in people I find hard to love. I talk about how there isn't good or bad, north or south, etc - that those are false constructs in a world that has been blinded by separation. I talk about how we are all the same at our core and how I might just not recognize a person yet and I need to be curious and patient with myself and with others.

  10. Our kids are our greatest teachers - they have chosen us because they have something to teach us and we have something to teach them. Learn the lessons well, and with humility.

much love to all of us as we navigate these stormy waters with as much integrity and courage as we can muster

Angela, white parent of two white, middle class, boys, ages 8 and 11.

PS. Here's another book that highlights the impact of prison on families. It is appropriate for 1st grade and older.

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