A National Tragedy:
Promoting Tolerance and Peace in Children
Tips for Parents and Schools
From the National Association of School Psychologists
A natural reaction to horrific acts of violence like the recent terrorist
attacks on the United States is the desire to lash out and punish the
perpetrators. People who are angry or frightened often feel that the
ability to "fight back" puts them more in control or will alleviate
their sense of pain. While anger is a normal response felt by many, we
must ensure that we do not compound an already great tragedy and react against
innocent individuals with vengeance and intolerance. There is a tremendous
risk of unfairly stigmatizing people - in this country and around the world -
who may look like "our perceived enemies," if we do not temper
Children, in particular, may have difficulty channeling their feelings
appropriately and can easily pick up negative or demeaning cues given by adults
around them. Given the diversity of Americaís schools, some students may
become targets of hostility and blame. Bullying and harassment are never
acceptable but they can be especially damaging at this critical time in our
nationís history. Parents and school personnel need to be prepared to quickly
and effectively prevent and stop abusive behaviors that are directed toward any
students, although Arab-Americans and individuals of Islamic faith are most at
Adults can help children understand the importance of treating all people
with dignity and not judging groups of people for the actions of a few.
Most importantly, adults must model tolerance and compassion in their words and
behavior. They should also encourage children to explore their feelings
about prejudice and hate. Doing so is not only critical to preventing
further harm, but the process presents a potentially powerful, albeit painful,
opportunity for our young people to learn and incorporate into their values the
true strength of our country - our commitment to individual freedom and
upholding the respect and dignity of all people.
- Violence and hate are never solutions to
anger. The terrorists caused tremendous harm because they acted
violently against innocent people out of blind hate. We must not act
like them by lashing out at innocent people around us, or "hating"
them because of their origins.
- Groups of people should not be judged by
the actions of a few. It is wrong to condemn an entire group of
people by association of religion, race, homeland, or even proximity.
No one likes to be blamed or threatened for the actions of others.
- America is strong because of our
diversity. Known as the great
"melting-pot" of the world, American democracy is founded
on respect for individual differences. Those differences in culture,
religion, ideas, and ethnicity have
contributed to the the strength and
richness of our country.
- All people deserve to be treated with
fairness, respect and dignity. Certainly individuals that are
proven to be guilty of a crime should be punished. No matter how angry
we are over these terrible crimes, our Constitution ensures fair and
equitable treatment under the law for all Americans.
- Vengeance and justice are not
necessarily the same.
Everyone wants the terrorists punished. Our government is working to
identify who they are and how we will bring them to justice. Justice
means punishing the real perpetrators, not innocent people. Hurting
our classmates and neighbors will not make us safer, stop the real
terrorists, or help punish them. It will only add to the hate and anger,
increasing the risk of further violence.
- We are in this together. People
of all ethnicities were hurt by these attacks and all Americans are saddened
by the senseless violence. We need to support each other, comfort each
other, and work together to help those most in need during this difficult
- History shows us that intolerance only
causes harm. Some of our
countryís darkest moments resulted from prejudice and intolerance for our
own people because Americans acted out of fear. We must not repeat
terrible mistakes such as our treatment of Japanese Americans and Arab
Americans during times of war.
- We need to work for peace in our
communities and around the world. The best way that we can
stand up for our country at this point is to unite behind the principles
that make us strong. By reaching out to our classmates, friends, and
neighbors of all ethnicities, we can help heal the wounds from these events,
build stronger, more resilient communities at home, and show the world that
American values will endure now and forever.
- Tolerance is a lifelong endeavor.
Protecting against harassment of our Arab American classmates and
neighbors is most critical right now. But the issues of tolerance and
inclusion go beyond this period in our national life together. We must
embrace these values towards all Americans for all time. This includes
race, religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and those with special
Tips for Parents and
- Model tolerance and compassion. Children
take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid
making negative statements about any racial, ethnic, or religious group at
these very tense and troubling times in our childrenís lives. Reach
out to your neighbors and colleagues who might feel at risk right now
because of their ethnicity.
- Provide useful information. Accurate
information about the people, events, reactions, and feelings is empowering.
Use language that is developmentally appropriate for children. Make sure
that all information is factually true. This is especially important when
news reports have negative statements about Arab-Americans or any other
- Avoid stereotyping people or countries
that might be home to the terrorists. Children can easily generalize
negative statements to students in their classes and community. Focusing on
the nationality of the terrorists can create prejudice, anger, and mistrust
for their group members. Be clear about your statements and biases,
and help children understand their own prejudices.
- Address the issue of blame factually.
Explore who and what may be to blame for this event. Use non-speculative
terms. Do not suggest any group is responsible. Do not repeat
the speculations of others, including newscasters. Do not encourage or
allow random blaming; but understand that self-blame may be a way for
students to feel "in control" (something different they
"could have done" or "could do" in the future). Be
careful to ensure students, (e.g., Arab-American students,) do not assume
blame in order to make classmates feel better. Blaming is especially
difficult in terrorist situations because someone is at fault. However,
explain that all Arab-Americans are not guilty by association or racial
membership. Help kids resist the tendency to want to "pin the
blame" on someone close by. In this country, we still believe that all
people are innocent until solid, reliable evidence from our legal
authorities proves otherwise. Further, we have no reason to believe that the
attacks on our country were part of an organized plan of any other country.
The terrorists acted independently without the sanctions of any nation.
- Discuss how it would feel to be blamed
unfairly by association. Ask children if they have ever gotten
in trouble for something a sibling or friend did and how they felt.
Would they like it if their entire class were punished for the actions of
one student and if they think this would be fair? Older children might want
to consider what would have happened if all white American males had been
condemned for the Oklahoma City bombing.
- Explore childrenís fears. Even
children who can describe what happened may not be able to express fears,
questions, or describe assumptions or conclusions they may have made.
Use activities, role-playing, and discussions to explore their fears about
the events and their feelings about various ethnic groups.
- Emphasize positive, familiar images of
diverse ethnic groups. Identify people of diverse ethnicities
that your children know and who have a positive place in their lives. These
could be neighbors, friends, school personnel, health care professionals,
members of their faith community, or local merchants. Discuss the many
characteristics, values, and experiences the children have in common with
- Identify "heroes" of
varying backgrounds involved in response to the attacks.
These include firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, military
personnel, public officials, medical workers, construction crews, engineers,
and regular citizens who are volunteering their time, perhaps even risking
their lives, to help victims of the attacks and restore the country to
- Undertake projects to help those
in need with people from diverse backgrounds. Helping
others is part of the healing process. Working with classmates or
members of the community who come from different backgrounds not only
enables children to feel that they are making a positive contribution, it
also reinforces their sense of commonality with diverse people.
- Discuss historical instances of American
intolerance. Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl
Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are
obvious examples. Teachers can do lessons in class, but parents can
also discuss the consequences of these events and encourage their children
to suggest better choices that Americans can make this time.
- Learn about the diverse communities and
faiths represented in your area. Knowledge debunks myths about
other people and can humanize other cultures. In school, have children
share information about their family or cultural customs to reinforce the
notion that all people have special beliefs and rituals.
- Read books with your children that
address prejudice, tolerance, and hate. There are many,
many stories appropriate for varying age groups that can help children think
about and define their feelings regarding these issues. The school or
local librarian can make recommendations.
Additional Tips for Schools
- Provide parents with information.
Send home materials on class lessons, book titles, resources for further
information, and opportunities to help. Enlist support from parents to
prevent "teasing, bullying or abuse" of any students.
- Train all school personnel.
Every school professional should be trained to model tolerance and intervene
immediately if a child is being bullied. This includes bus drivers,
lunchroom and playground monitors, after school program leaders, coaches and
extracurricular activities directors.
- Share information with community groups.
Provide talking points, information, and intervention strategies to local
community organizations dealing with children. This can include local
libraries, youth programs, recreational facilities, and the media
- For further information on
promoting tolerance among children and
NASP at (301) 657-0270 or visit NASPís website at
[Editor'snote: The NASP
website will be adding and updating information as the days go by. Please
revisit whenever necessary.
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