There are some tough conversations as parents we wish we never have to have with our children. Racism is one of them. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve seen the countless stories and the racial tension that is brewing in our country. As parents, it’s important that our children learn from our voices. My husband and I are firm believers that certain first-time conversations shouldn’t be had with our children at school, amongst their peers, and if I can keep it real…out in the streets. We want our kids to know our voice and views on particular issues. From the pool incident in McKinney, TX to the Massacre in Charleston, SC conversations about racism with our children are more important now than ever. Being prepared for the discussion is almost just as important as the conversation itself. Have you ever had your child ask you a question you totally weren’t ready to answer at the time? Exactly, I can see your face because my face had the same expression. It’s not fun…you began to stutter, you either dismiss them or give them an answer you weren’t sure about. Be prepared.
Here are five things to consider before talking with your child about racism:
1. Just do it
Most people think there are children are too young to have a conversation about race. Between the ages of 5-8 years old is when children begin to notice the differences between themselves and other children. Speak age appropriately. It’s important to have a different conversation with an 8-year-old than you would for a 15-year-old. Certain events or illustrations may be too much for younger children. The last thing you would want to do is cause your child to be fearful or nervous about certain topics that will cause a breakdown in the communication. This won’t be an easy or one of those light-hearted conversations, but it will be worth it later.
2. Anticipate questions
Your child is going to have a ton of questions, so why not anticipate them. Take some time and write down questions that could come up and think about your answers or stories you could tell to help them understand. Do your research on the subject, be sure you support and clear on the information you’re giving. Another important thing is to not to worry about saying “I don’t know” or ask to revisit the question later. Your kids know that you aren’t an expert or Wikipedia, so it’s completely fine to come back later and give an appropriate response.
3. Foster their curiosity
Give your child room to be curious about the issues. When you hear the word curiosity, your mind automatically goes to younger children. Curiosity isn’t solely linked to younger children, but also prominent in teenagers, most of the time we don’t give them room to be open enough to share and ask honest questions for fear of disagreement, embarrassment, or just plain ole not wanting to know.
4. Think about how to start the conversation
Depending on the age, how you bring up the conversation can cause a break in communication. Time the conversation when you’re not tired, hungry and don’t have the time to give your full attention. The worse thing in starting a meaningful conversation is starting it and not having the time to fully complete it and to answer any questions that may come up.
5. Give homework and plan to have a follow-up conversation
Give your child homework and follow up with them a few days later. It’s especially important for parents of teenagers, don’t be pushy if they say “I’m good. Give them a little space and allow them to come to you. One of the best ways to get your child invested in what’s going on in their community or the world around them is to allow them to be a part of the solution. Ask them questions to get their input and assist them in making small strides towards a goal.
Bonus: Be an example
One of the best conversations you can have with your child no matter the age is through your actions. Be a role model and look for teachable moments every day.