Following the tragic events in South Carolina, the news and internet have been awash in questions and opinions about how Dylann Roof could become a young man with such deep seeded hate. The behavior of any one individual is multiply determined and there will never be just one thing to say about it. But looking at the internet discussions at least two central questions arise. How do we keep our kids from developing such a deep level of hate and how do we know when the behavior of our children should worry us? Every parent wants a successful future for their child, no one wishes for this kind of outcome. In today’s blog we will address the first question.
How do I ensure my child accepts and respects differences?
When someone has to hate that which they are not it is a reflection of a negative view of self. People with this trouble have not had enough good experiences to develop a sense of “me” that is lovable and likable. For example, as early as infancy parents protect their child from being overwhelmed by attending to their needs. Changing a wet diaper quickly or swaddling when the parent senses the child might be cold conveys they are worthy and loved. If these types of experiences happen daily, with parents slowly introducing delays in gratification and allowing small disappointments, the child learns to deal with frustration in bearable bits.
Hate begins when the world feels overwhelming. Negative feelings about the self are pushed out and put onto others who are different. They become targets for the things about the self that are hated. Essentially one unconsciously says, “I am not helpless, I make others helpless and then attack them for it.”
Children begin to notice differences around age three so it is important they go into this phase with a strong sense of being good and intact. Questions about differences are frequent and how a parent responds can help a child see they can still be good even when compared to others who are different and also good. When children point out differences they are asking a question, “Am I OK?” For example, children in preschool can often be heard saying things like, “Your skin is chocolate, mine is vanilla” This is a question hidden in a statement. How did I get to be the way I am? Am I going to stay this way? Is there anything wrong with who I am? When parents or teachers answer these questions and reassure children they are exactly as they need to be, a strong sense of self develops. In addition, answering children’s questions helps them become good thinkers who are less likely to go looking for answers online and more critical of the kinds of information predators provide them online.
While we don’t know the specifics of Dylann’s life, we can hypothesize from what we do know. We know he was alone. We know he lacked good enough feelings. We know he went looking for connection online. We know that when this group treated him nice, he was surprised and considered backing down. The loving behavior of the group knocked on some door inside that would have allowed him to see beyond his projections. But something bigger was missing that kept it from opening. He was too far down the road of projecting what he hated about himself and their contrary behavior would have been intolerable to his defense. He would have had to see that the negative was his, not theirs, and he could not tolerate that reality.
What can parents do?