Talking About Acceptance and Kindness on MLK Day

Yesterday our family enjoyed some downtime together during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.  But I didn’t want the significance of the day to go unnoticed by my children.  And I thought my 5-year old was finally old enough to discuss the importance of Martin Luther King Jr., so we dedicated a portion of our day to learning about his message.  I knew her kindergarten teacher had talked to her about King as well, and I was curious to first learn more about what she had understood from school.  My daughter said that she knew Martin Luther King was an important man, who said ‘nobody will tell my kids they are bad because their skin color is different.’  That seemed like a good start, and I wanted to reinforce the message of diversity, acceptance and kindness at home.

So after we talked about what she learned in class, we watched this story time video on YouTube.  The story is called I am Martin Luther King, Jr., which is a detailed account of King’s life in ‘kid-terms’ and describes the key events in his life from childhood stories to the march in Washington D.C. to Selma and the Montgomery March.  The book also talks about King’s nonviolent approaches and how he believed in love and peaceful resistance as ways to protest racism.

Since this was a video, I paused after some of the segregation stories from King’s childhood, and asked my daughter how she thought Martin Luther King may have felt when he was not allowed to do the things that other kids did because of his skin color, and she said “sad.”  I asked her if it was nice to not include people because they look different, and she said “no.”  When we got to his “I have a dream” speech in the story, my daughter recalled that her teacher had talked to them about this speech, so I knew she was making some connections.

Talking about Diversity, Equality & Kindness

After the story time, we spent some time talking about diversity.  We talked about a lot of her friends from school, and realized that everyone was different in their own ways, but that they were all still her friends and that she could learn from their differences.  We then talked about our own family. She knows that her father and I are of different races, and we talked about how both of our cultures were unique but that together we now have so many special family traditions we have created.  I also explained to her that her mommy and daddy would not have been able to get married just some time back so we were grateful that we have been able to become a family.  Interracial marriage was made fully legal in the United States in 1967, which is only 50 years ago.  The recency of this still boggles my mind.

After our chat, I followed up with a super simple activity that a few different sites recommend to make the notion of diversity a bit more concrete.  You crack open a brown egg and a white egg to explain to kids that while the eggs look different on the outside, they were the same on the inside.  My daughter enjoyed this activity and immediately grasped the message.

I emphasized that it was very important for us as a family to be nice and to include all kinds of people. The harder message to communicate to her at this age is how to handle the situation when others don’t include her and how she can peacefully protest something she doesn’t agree with.  I want her to know that if anyone is mean to her that she should stand up to them, but do so without being mean herself.  “When they go low, we go high” is a powerful statement to try to teach my girls, but this message is one that we will have to continue to reinforce and practice over time, as that is not easy to grok right away especially at the age of five. All in all, I was glad that we spent just a bit of time talking about the significance of such an important holiday and King’s message of kindness.  Perhaps in years to come, we can dive deeper or even do a day of service in honor of MLK.