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Honoring Victims and Survivors: Speaking with your children and recognizing your bias

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada was held on September 30. It will be a yearly memorial of the children who died while attending residential schools, as well as the survivors, families, and communities who are still touched by the system's legacy.

Why the Orange Shirt?

Orange Shirt Day, which began in 2013, has been observed in previous years. The day is named after Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor who had her orange shirt taken away on the first day of school.

While we take a pause to honor indigenous peoples it's important that we reassess ourselves. What are we putting out into the world? What is the impact we are having on others around us? Although it may appear that what we do has little impact on the greater society, let me remind you that you have an impact. When you touch the life of one person you affect the lives of many. As a positive step forward let us all take a step backward and examine any unconscious bias we may be holding towards the indigenous peoples.

Try these strategies to address unconscious bias:

1. Develop a strong sense of self-awareness

2. Understand the concept of implicit bias to allow for better awareness and open-mindedness.

3. Consciously change your stereotypes and adjust your response.

4. In a safe space create opportunity for discussion (this does not mean bombarding your Indigenous friend/colleague with questions, however starting a conversation in a safe space may promote growth)

5. Review your internal conversations.

6. Adjust your perspective and expose yourself to learn about different cultures.

As I reflected today on the horrors that were experienced by Indigenous people I felt compelled to inform my daughter. After a conversation with a few mothers, I realized that parents will often shelter their children from truths in an effort to protect them. There are times in life that we must expose the truth to our young so they can learn and grow with their eyes open. In my experience working with children, the more knowledge and truth we share with our children the strong sense of self is developed and the better they will be able to cope with the realities of our world.

How to talk to our children:

As a parent who wants to instill kindness into my children, I often find myself sharing with my daughter the horrors of the world so she will understand the true importance of kindness. I want her to understand that not all children have all these toys, not all people have been given the same opportunities, not all families can travel and do all the fun activities she is privileged enough to enjoy. Many parents will ask, how do I get my children to understand their privileges and hold an appreciation for other people. Often parents say that they don't want to scare their children by telling them too much. The short answer is to lead by example. The second most important thing is to be truthful in a language they can understand. I want to remind you that children are resilient and the truth is beneficial to their growth and development. Share with them the truth of the paths of others. Ask questions on how the stories you share make them feel. Think first about the impact you want to have on your child when you are sharing truths about the world with your children.

Written by: Tyfanny Ross, BSW, MSW


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