Racism happens every day. You can choose to ignore it or you can choose to open your eyes and walk through the discomfort on the journey to healing, peace and unity. Chances are the eyes of your child are open. They are looking to their parents as well as others for meaning and understanding. As their parent, it is important that you take an active role in helping them shape their view of this world and their self-identity by talking to them directly about events happening around the world and in their everyday lives. Understandably that can be hard for a lot of people on this particular topic but avoidance doesn’t do anybody any good.
For this reason, the first step in talking to your child about racism is assessing your own thoughts and feelings about topics related to race and inequality. Now is the time to examine yourself closely and be honest about what it is you believe and what actions you take that either reinforce racist beliefs or fight against them. Kids will see right through you if you try to pretend. They will ask you direct questions about situations they see in their lives outside as well as right within their own homes. Be honest about your own discomfort and questions. Don’t make up answers. Say you don’t understand and challenge yourself to look for answers on your own or with your child.
Second, listen to your child. Don’t be quick to respond until you’ve heard their question or point of view. Ask them how they’re feeling and validate whatever it might be. You might be surprised by their feeling but if you shut it down you might be closing the door to an open discussion. Feelings can range from hatred, fear, confusion, anxiety, shock and guilt to apathy and pleasure. It’s important to ask questions to understand why your child might have the feelings that they have and address it appropriately. If your child feels fearful or anxious don’t give them false reassurances and pretend their fears aren’t real. Help them understand how they can be brave and what you are going to do to keep them safe. If your child feels hatred or guilt, help them come to terms with their feelings and find ways to be a positive impact in their own social circles. Repaying hate with hate is ineffective. Guilt without change is pointless. Move forward. Be the change.
Children who experience apathy or pleasure may do so because of a lack of understanding or perspective. It’s important to find out what thoughts and perceptions are driving this feeling before making assumptions. This is a good time to teach your child about empathy, compassion, human dignity and respect. These are values that should be taught regardless of your child’s response to events involving racism but particularly if they are having a hard time connecting to the meaning and significance and their experiences. Children can benefit from social connections outside their comfort zones and getting to know what’s different so they can appreciate differences as well as discover the similarities that they might share with another individual outside their race and culture. The only way to build bridges is to put in the work and make intentional efforts to see the world around you with open eyes prepared to learn and be challenged, to educate yourself and respond to injustices on your own or another’s behalf.
Whether you feel better prepared now to talk to your child or not, the important thing is that you do it. The world will not change unless we each change our own individual worlds. If adults cannot do better how can we expect the next generation to do better? Let’s support our kids in finding a better path and living a better future that is kind and loving towards all.