Is there a right time to talk to our children about racism and unrest?
Racism and unrest are very important topics to discuss and there is no right or wrong time to talk to children about them. These topics are not to be discussed only once at the “right time” or only when something happens. Families should talk about racism and its impact early and often in a dynamic manner that promotes ongoing conversations.
It is important to discuss these topics because these issues exist, and only through education and dialogue can we help children understand the impact their actions can have on the future of their communities.
At what age should parents start the discussion with their children?
Children can differentiate races and skin colors at a very early age. As a result, parents can start discussing racism and inequality with their children in infancy and toddlerhood by exposing them to media and toys that present people of color in a positive manner. Include these discussions when they watch cartoons or when you read them books. If these resources don’t have representation, point that out, and tell them why that is problematic.
What are some tips you have for parents who feel they are ready to start talking to their children about racism and inequaility?
The first step is self-care and managing your own anxieties and frustrations. This does not mean you have to let go of your own feelings. It means label your feelings and express them in an adaptive way that your children can model after. Let them know that you don’t have all the answers and that you’re educating yourself too. Ask them about their experiences or exposure to racism and let them know you can learn from them too.
Talk about privilege and how you and your family might enjoy privilege. It’s helpful to create an environment that will allow your family to share their feelings and thoughts without fear of repercussion. Understand that it’s OK if the conversation does not go as planned—you can try again at another time.
Are there different ways to talk to kids based on their age?
Children in different age groups or developmental levels may need different approaches to the discussion. Use language that is age-appropriate and words that are in their vocabulary while adding words and terms related to racism and social inequality to their vocabulary.
A good place to start is by using TV shows, books, toys, etc. to start conversations about race with younger children. It’s important to talk with children and point out how the characters depicted may not be representative of the real world and why that is not OK.
With older children and teens, ask them about experiences they’ve had with their peers or loved ones surrounding racism and social injustice. Talk to them about how they’ve felt about these topics and validate their feelings. Engage your teens in ways that make them feel like a part of the movement; online activism, fundraising and spreading awareness are some ways to help them channel their frustrations in a productive way.
Are there signs parents should look for in children who may be struggling with what is happening related to racism or the unrest?
This depends on the age of the child. However, the main signs in any age could be changes in mood, sleep, appetite, energy and even in their levels of interest in activities compared to their usual selves. Some children may become more irritable or may be more clingy and fearful of separation from parents. They may express concerns about the safety of loved ones and the situational unrest may serve as a trigger for certain behavior.
Younger children may also express their fears and frustrations during play. If you are concerned about your child’s adjustment related to racism and unrest, start a conversation about it and validate how they might be feeling. Try to be proactive rather than reactive in having these discussions and addressing their difficulties.
Are there resources that could help parents with these discussions?
Absolutely. There are several wonderful resources available on the internet. Here are a few from well-recognized sources:
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