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A parent’s guide to talking to your children about racism, protests, injustice

The current climate of the world and especially the U.S. has brought some important issues to the forefront, and now your kids may have questions. For parents, now is a crucial time to talk about race and racism, Denise C. Moore, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Master’s Touch Counseling Services explains how to approach the touchy conversation.

When’s a good time to bring up this topic (Ex: Is it okay if it’s out of nowhere? Should you wait for them to ask about it? Should you bring it up after they watch or read something related?

Parents of Black children start having “the talk’, when their children are generally pre-school age. It is difficult to determine when other groups might have this conversation. It varies, but generally the discussion around racism arises when the child is curious or something happens that prompts it. For some families, talking about race is a regular part of daily life. For others, it’s a subject that can be difficult to discuss. But for everyone, it’s an incredibly important conversation and shouldn’t be avoided. 

  • Those initial conversations can be unnerving, but parents should not to shy away from them, even if the children are young. Underestimating their ability to comprehend issues around race and injustice would be a mistake.
  • Developing empathy, compassion, and a sense of justice at an early age helps children grow into adults who want to help make the world a better place. For parents, that often means taking a deep breath and having those tough conversations about race and racism. Regardless of how the conversation begins, parents should be sending the signal that it’s okay and important to talk about it.

How do you approach it?

There’s not a specific way to approach this topic, especially when it comes to discussing the complexities of race and racism. But, there are better ways to go about it, and each parent will have to decide for themselves what makes the most sense for them and their family.  Above all, it’s a conversation that allparents need to have, no matter your background or experience.

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  • Create a safe space: Begin by establishing a safe space where kids know its okay to say the “wrong” thing because you’re all learning together. Kids should know that if they use the wrong word, parents or other trusted adults won’t flip out. Embrace teachable moments.
  • Talk about it: We should not teach color-blindness. Some parents don’t talk about race because they don’t want to raise their children to be aware of differences –However, we are all different and being different is not negative or bad thing. 
  • Start Early: According to Dr. Jacqueline Douge, As early as six months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences, and can internalize racial bias by ages two to four. While helpful for all races, it’s especially important for white children to see brown and black kids in a positive light. Books that profile multi-racial characters are an excellent way for parents to do that. And since it’s never too early to read to your child, start right away.
  • Race Conscious parenting: Being race conscious means thinking about, talking about and acting in response to your child’s awareness of race and differences.

Why is this such an important topic of conversation to have with your kids and teens right now?

With all of the current unrest surrounding race, racism, protest and violence, this moment in time provides us with an opportunity to have a dialogue with our children about race and racial inequality. This can be the starting point for a broader conversation. Part of those conversations will require some deep thinking by adults.

  • Have a discussion about non-violent protest and how they helped to change the history of our country. Help them understand that it is our first amendment right to peacefully protest.
  • Adults should evaluate their own implicit biases, and discuss them.

How do you speak on racism with black children vs. non-black children?

Black children come in the world learn about race and racism. Traditionally, all Black parents have had “The Talk”, with their children, this conversation starts as early as pre-school. This talk is about preparing African-American children to survive in our society. They are instructed on how to conduct themselves when in public and when in the presence of others.

White families often ignore the issue of racism because it is an uncomfortable topic, and because many assume that it doesn’t affect their children. But racism dehumanizes all of us.  We can only end racism by talking with of our children about how it unfair it is, by admitting that all of us have a tendency to judge people based on appearance, by pointing out the terrible cost to people of color.

Road map for change: Continue learning: Get comfortable about being uncomfortable. Continue talking and learning about race, racism and racial inequity.

Cultivate a diverse library. Be intentional and authentic. Create or add to your children’s literature, a variety of black and brown authors, who write about multidimensional characters. 

Take opportunities. When racism or intolerance comes up, keep the lines of communication open. Ask your children questions to find out why they’re thinking what they’re thinking, and how these ideas developed. 

Encourage Empathy: Create situations where your children can interact with people of diverse backgrounds, religions, and traditions. Meeting new people will lead to questions and “teachable moments” and help foster a better understanding of diversity, in turn, developing nurturing brave, inclusive, empathetic children.

Model behavior. Model open, thoughtful, and respectful conversations of difficult issues. Create an open dialogue of learning about racism with your extended family and friends. Speak up against racism or bigotry that you encounter.

Reading materials to help guide the process:

A Kid’s Book about Racism by Jelani Memory

Not My Idea: A book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey.

Find literature for children and adults by African-American authors here:

The Brown Bookshelf is a group of authors and illustrators who came together to push awareness of the myriad of African-American voices writing for young readers. Brain Lair Books is an independent, black-owned, female owned bookseller in Indiana.

To learn more about Denise’s counseling services, visit her website.

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