July 4th brings us back to a different time in history, when people’s day-to-day lives and expectations were radically different from our own. As we celebrate and learn about the holiday, it can also be a perfect time to help our children take perspective and to talk with them about how and why our country has changed over the years.
Issues of civil rights and freedom were pivotal in 1776, and they’re front and center in today’s news too. I’ve used the topic of civil rights and social justice as a starting point for reflecting with my kids about recent events and the ways in which people’s everyday lives and beliefs have changed over time. I’ve tried to remind them that one of our country’s strengths is its diversity of opinions and lifestyles, which we might or might not agree with. Talking through some of these issues gives kids a chance to explore new perspectives and to consider the reasons that underlie beliefs that might feel wrong or confusing to them.
As I spoke with my kids about the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, I realized that my boys weren’t even aware that prior to the ruling, gay marriage hadn’t been legal in many parts of the country. Their limited knowledge made me feel that I haven’t done enough to expose them to issues outside of our immediate viewpoints and world. Our talk broadened their understanding and led them to consider what it might feel like to be a person who didn’t have the same rights that they and other people they know take for granted.
These kinds of conversations offer great opportunities to practice perspective taking with children, helping to develop their ability to see another person’s point of view. This ability is essential in all stages of life for building strong relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. As you talk with your kids about July 4th, you can practice this skill by imagining or researching the lives of Americans living in 1776. How were their lives different from or similar to our own, and how might a person from the 18th century react to life in 2015?