How to talk to your kids about Race & Racism

As protests continue, many parents are wondering how to talk about the current situation and events with their children. Talking about race and racism is a very sensitive subject but one that is paramount.   

Frankly, choosing whether or not to talk to your kids about race is a privilege that many parents just don’t have as some children, especially those of BAME background, may inevitably learn about it when confronted in their everyday lives. 

The truth is, there isn’t a perfect way to raise awareness on this topic. Ultimately each parent will have to decide for themselves when, where, how and what to say that makes the most sense for their family. Regardless, in order to raise conscious, accepting children-  it is a conversation all parents need to have- you just cannot rely on the world, school and people around to teach them about the realities we all face. 

Here are a few tips on how to improve these types of conversations and raise awareness within your family structure.

Talk it out.

We all want to feel safe, accepted and loved, but walking around acting like you don’t see differences can do more harm than good. At the moment, try to address the protests (and killings) in an honest and age appropriate way. But also respect your children's feelings. If talking about this subject is too upsetting, make sure to leave the door open for future conversations.

  • Preschool-age children - ‘’What if my child asks why another child has darker skin?’’ Start by discussing racial differences in a positive way. Explain what melanin is, talk about how wonderful it is that the world gave us different kinds of people. Also, address the protests “At the moment there are certain things happening in the news that are upsetting. Unfortunately, some people make bad choices for the wrong reasons because of things that people cannot change; like the colour of their skin. It shouldn’t have happened. Now that it did, we should be more careful how we treat each other.” 
  • Elementary-age children - Find out how much your child knows about the protests. Kids may know more than we think that they do from the news, overhearing their parents talking, noticing the protests in the neighborhood. They will be more aware of what’s happening now. Continue by having a conversation about the violence against black people without being too explicit. Ask them what they think about the conversation, understand what they may have seen or experienced and how it made them feel. Draw parallels where you can. Be clear on how unfairly black and brown people have been treated throughout history, because kids understand the meaning of fair and unfair, they understand right and wrong.

Children notice skin color, physical difference, and they categorize it as normal. Avoiding talking about race and racism can cause children to come to a lot of harmful conclusions shaped by the world around us. We need to teach that all humans should be treated equally and encourage them to discuss their feelings and experiences with you so that they will stop filling in the information gaps themselves. Parents with black children need to talk to their kids as well. We need to ensure that we raise children who are aware of the community in which they are being raised. We need to talk about racial differences and how people are sometimes treated unfairly on this basis in order to build self-awareness and safety. 

Be an example.

Parents need to be models for the behavior and values that they wish to see in their children, because they see and copy everything. Sometimes we aren’t exposed to people who are different from us. The best way to overcome this is by making sincere connections and giving yourself access to other people’s experiences. Bring children together to share their stories with one another - interactions and conversations are crucial.  A creative way to keep an open dialogue about racism and a way to raise children who are anti-racist is by making sure your home library has books with black protagonists. Check out our previous post on excellent books we recommend. 

Let your little one be curious.

It's natural for children to ask questions. Teaching them how to be respectfully curious can be difficult, as any parent knows by now, children don’t always ask questions in a delicate manner. 

Parents need to be aware of what the child is asking about and that they notice different attitudes. When a child asks their parents, ‘Why does he look like that?’ and they tell him to “shhhh”, it can signal to the child that there’s something wrong. We need to think more about how to listen to kids, because children look to their parents to explain everything that happens around them. If your child is curious, be sure to read about it and find out more. Have a sincere conversation. And if you don’t know what to say, move the conversation forward in a positive direction - “I’m not sure, but let’s look into this together and find out more. We will learn a new thing today.” 

Learn from mistakes and address them.

Parents need to be comfortable discussing this subject themselves. Racism can be difficult to explain to children, no matter who you are. Don’t stay silent, it’s crucial to empower children! 

What should you tell your children when they accidentally say the wrong thing? “Listen before you react this way. The best thing you can say is, ‘I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. What can I do to make sure I am not making that mistake again?’’ Its a learning process for all, but with a good heart, honest intentions we can all contribute to making this world a safe and more loving place for all. 

Let’s both be honest with ourselves about the difficulties we face and let's put in the effort to correct those prejudices and wrongs for our children. One day we will overcome racism. It’s very important, especially for non-black parents to keep the conversation about race and racism going with or without a national outrage.

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