Handling controversial topics with our children, either as teachers or parents, can be tricky. And in January, in Australia, nothing is quite as controversial as Australia Day.

What seems to be controversial is not that we celebrate our nation, but when we celebrate, because the truth is the birth of the Australia we know today came at the very real and very painful expense of the Indigenous people already living and thriving here for thousands of years.

The difficulty in discussing the date of Australia Day is that it is, by nature, very emotive. And you cannot make generalisations about the people in support of changing the date, and people against. People fall on both sides, regardless of their race, colour, religion, political, and economic background. Not all people who oppose changing the date are racist, not all people in support of changing the date are antiracist.

I have my own feelings about the date of Australia Day, which I’m happy to discuss in the comments if you like.

So, how do we address this with children and young adults? I think the key-word here is ‘respect’. This is a living issue in our society, something people are experiencing right now, that is impacting their lives. The harm done by the European colonialisation of Australia exists in people’s living memory, and continues to have repercussions today. The least we can all do is treat the issue with respect, without the intention of hurting or demeaning others, regardless of their opinion.

We grow and learn in conversation with each other. We can only have these conversations if we’re willing to listen with open heart and open mind.

How do you approach sensitive topics with your students and children? What do you think the best approach is? Open up the conversation in the comments.

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