Tips for how to talk with kids about injustices

Teaching children about justice is important for their faith, but it can feel like a daunting topic. Christian educator Sara Pantazes recommends three tips.

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Talking about injustices with kids is an important part of their faith development. It helps them connect their knowledge and lived experiences of the world with their growing understanding of the divine. It builds a foundation of belief that God loves and cares not only for them but for every part of creation and that God invites them to participate in that work of loving and caring, especially with those who are suffering. (Read more of my thoughts on this here.)

Knowing how to put these beliefs into practice can feel like a large task. This certainly stands true in my own work as a Christian educator who focuses on justice issues. I’ve found that thinking through your teaching methods, your community and your theology are immensely helpful and a way to do this work responsibly. Whether you are just getting started talking about injustices with kids or have been doing it for a while, I’ve found these three areas of focus can help hone how you teach injustice to children.

Lean into your teacher skills

Think about the education classes and/or the hours of experience you have leading classes. Talking about injustices requires the same teaching techniques you already know. One principle to have at the front of your mind is to keep your lesson age appropriate. Talking about injustices with kids does not mean we start with the history of lynching or the most horrific stories of migrants trying to cross the border.

Identify the specific issue or injustice you want to work on with your group, then work to dig straight to its core. What is the most basic thing going on here that a six-year-old would understand? If you are struggling or are unsure, turn to story books! (And if you are not struggling and feel confident in what you’re doing, still turn to story books!) They are one of the best tools we have in this work. The authors of children’s books that relate to topics of injustice have most likely already done the hard work of thinking about how to present their topic in age-appropriate ways. Follow their lead and utilize the discussion questions that many books offer.

Finally, remember that people learn in many different ways. Avoid talking at kids and instead, find creative ways to present the topic. Then give them a variety of methods to process and respond to the information.

Invite your community into the work

Since talking about injustices with kids is an expression of our faith, and our faith is meant to be practiced in community, look for opportunities to invite people of your community into this work. A great starting place is to follow the lead of the kids themselves. Ask what they are interested in learning more about. Once you have that list, ask what they already know about those topics and watch how they respond and react as you explore it together.

Another part of involving your community is engaging the kids’ caregivers. I lead a regular program at my church about injustices for kids, and I ask the grown-ups to stay and participate in the program every time. This holds value for them because they will know what their kids learned about and have context and reference points to continue the conversation at home. This holds value for me as well because I know these adults will give me wise, honest feedback, especially about how the children’s program fits within the larger context of our justice-seeking church.

Finally, look for opportunities to invite members of your church community into the work who have experience or knowledge related to the specific injustice you’re learning about. This could be a person who has lived with that injustice (but only if they are comfortable sharing.) It could be a congregation member whose profession is directly connected to the topic or someone from a mission agency your church supports.

For instance, a missionary our church supports in Africa will be visiting our youth group later this spring to talk about the work she does with special needs students in her community. I am hoping this will be a deeply meaningful conversation for our youth, especially those who volunteer with the special needs students in their own school! Any of these kinds of interactions help kids see that the work of addressing injustices is the work of the whole church and an important expression of faith.

Keep coming back to God

Injustices are often deeply intersectional and personal. As a result, it is easy to get caught up or even lost in the narrative you are exploring. You may find this to be especially true if the injustice is in the current news cycle or is being ineffectively worked out on social media platforms. Your students may not come to your lesson with that baggage, but it may very well be unhelpfully influencing you. When I encounter this difficulty, I try to focus on Bible. How does this topic connect to God’s big story? Is there an example of it in the Bible? What could God want us to know and/or do about this?

I also try to remind myself to have grace — with those exploring the injustice with me and those who are not. And that is my recommendation to you. Talking about injustice as a group can bring up discomfort. Pray for God’s Spirit to imbue the work and remember that it is not done in a single lesson, or even ten. You are planting seeds that life experience and other teachers and God will cultivate over a long period of time.