“There's so much activism. - There's so much activism that can be done in the home and in the school to promote kindness and all of these values to prepare them for the big bad world.”
- Tennessee Thomas, mama of two, DJ, drummer, and activist
Tennessee Thomas is an activist, designer, DJ, and drummer for NAF the Band and The Like. But that’s not all.
She’s also a mama to two sweet kids, Izzy and Sylvette and we got the chance to sit with her and learn a little bit more about what it looks like to raise kids in a world we’re trying to make a better place.
In 2013, Tennessee founded The Deep End Club which is Community Clubhouse and Online Shop created as hub for artists and activists to work together to find creative solutions to the world’s problems.
The group’s motto GIVE A DAMN! is seen on apparel and tee shirts around the world, and was recently included in a MOMA retrospective.
While activism has been a major part of her life, becoming a mother has transformed the way she looks at her activist work. When asked how she is raising her kids to give a damn, she said, “it's like planting seeds so that when they're ready, when the kids are ready, the seeds will sprout, grow, and come to life and make a difference in the world....I think children inherently care about their world and their surroundings and you see it from when they're teeny tiny they're showing an interest in the things that are really important, you know, like insects and plants growing and their friends. I think to encourage that and nurture that and when you see that they're interested in something - to give that energy and see where that leads.”
Throughout these moments of nurturing her future activists at home, she’s found that having them on her body as often as possible is the best way to make them happier. Babywearing has helped her keep doing what she loves. “The things you don’t think new parents can usually do, a baby carrier enabled me the freedom [to do it]. When [Sylvette] was three weeks old we actually went to a concert that was crazy, but I took Izzy when he was three months old in a carrier to a Bernie Sanders rally and Dick Van Dyke from Mary Poppins did a speech and then NWA performed and that was like one week before the pandemic kicked off so that was cool we got out there.”
Today, her perspective is that there is so much activism to be done at home.
“There's so much activism that can be done in the home and in the school to promote kindness and all of these values to prepare them for the big bad world,” she says. In her opinion, activism is not a job that children should be responsible for. Childhood is the time to explore, discover passions, and keep the childlike wonder that will eventually turn into an adult with responsibilities. But the ways to teach kids to give a damn is by "being nurtured to love the world and love the people and things in it and from having that, hopefully when they see things going awry, they'll care about that and want to do something about it.”
Practical Tips & Activities That Promote Understanding and Compassion at Every Age
For Babies (0-12 months)
- Model empathy: Babies pick up on your emotions, so demonstrate kindness and empathy in your interactions with others.
- Cuddle and comfort: Respond promptly to your baby's needs, whether it's hunger, discomfort, or a need for affection. This helps them feel secure and loved.
- Read books: Even though babies may not understand the words, reading to them exposes them to different emotions and teaches them about empathy.
- Mirror emotions: Show your baby different facial expressions and label them (happy, sad, surprised). This helps them recognize and understand emotions in others.
- Play peek-a-boo: This simple game teaches the concept of object permanence and can also be a fun way to teach that people can come and go but still care for them.
For Toddlers (1-3 years)
- **Teach simple emotion Use picture books or flashcards to help toddlers identify and name emotions like happy, sad, and mad.
- Practice sharing: Encourage sharing toys with other children during playdates to foster a sense of generosity and empathy.
- Pretend play: Engage in imaginative play where you can model empathy through interactions between dolls or stuffed animals.
- Use storytelling: Tell simple stories that involve characters showing kindness, sharing, and helping others.
- Provide choices: Allow toddlers to make simple choices to develop their sense of autonomy and empathy for others' preferences.
For Preschoolers (3-5 years)
- Role-play scenarios: Encourage them to act out scenarios where they take on different roles, emphasizing empathy and understanding.
- Teach conflict resolution: Help them develop problem-solving skills and learn how to negotiate with others peacefully.
- Volunteer together: Find age-appropriate volunteer opportunities where your child can directly help others, such as picking up litter in a park or making cards for nursing home residents.
- Discuss feelings: Have open conversations about emotions, asking questions like, "How do you think they felt when that happened?" This helps preschoolers practice empathy.
- Read and discuss books: Choose books with themes of compassion and discuss the characters' actions and feelings.
For School-Aged Children (6+ years)
- Encourage perspective-taking: Discuss situations from different points of view, helping them understand that people have unique experiences and feelings.
- Teach conflict resolution: Continue to develop their problem-solving skills and help them understand the importance of compromise.
- Support their interests: Encourage them to pursue hobbies or activities they are passionate about, as this can develop their sense of empathy and understanding of others with similar interests.
- Discuss current events: Engage in age-appropriate conversations about world events, discussing how they might impact others and encouraging empathy.
- Promote kindness: Emphasize the importance of random acts of kindness, whether it's helping a neighbor, donating to charity, or simply being courteous to others.