|Posted on June 8, 2020 at 9:30 PM|
10 Tips for Talking With Your Child or Teen About Racism and Diversity
It can be daunting to think about how to address racism with our kids. It is currently a heated topic that can raise tension. The best thing, however, is not to avoid these tough conversations. Here are some overall tips, as well as age appropriate ideas for these tough conversations. There are a lot of great resources available, so please check out as many as you can. Below are 10 ways to navigate these tricky topics.
- Allow conversation. Changing the subject or avoiding tough topics is not the answer. Our kids need to understand and process current events and that happens through asking questions and discussion of thoughts and feelings. We want our kids to come to us for these things, not to go to friends or others who may not discuss these topics in the manner we would like, or with accurate information. Answer questions as honestly (within age appropriate terms) as you can, and if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know, but we can look into that together.
- Take time to process your own feelings. Our thoughts and feelings are easily observable by our kids, so feeling angry, fearful, or hopeless will be seen and felt by them. We need to take care of ourselves and process with our partners, friends, or other support people so we can be stable and available for our kids. If another person isn’t available to chat, you can use a journal, or meditation to get into a calmer mindset.
- Conversations should be ongoing. As children reach different developmental stages, and as current events arise, we need to be prepared to have ongoing discussion with our kids based on their evolving thoughts and feelings.
- Keep your discussions age appropriate. Preschool children may not understand words such as “racism” and “discrimination”, but you can use phrases such as “They are not being nice because she looks different from them”, or “He must be very angry to be hurting someone else. He could use his words or find other safe ways to show his feelings.” Your approach in both the terminology and the background explanation are going to be very simple for younger kids and more detailed the older your child is.
- Look for teaching opportunities. Many movies, books, and TV shows use stereotypes that we can point out to help our kids become informed on the underlying factors that play into racism and discrimination. Often we fear what we don’t know or what is different and our mind seek to “categorize” in order to make sense of things. This is how we our brains are wired- to make associations, but the issue comes in when we teach that different is bad, or that we should only associate with those who are “similar.” Bringing awareness to what stereotypes are (an overgeneralized belief about a category of people) and how they can create harmful thinking is an important part of these learning opportunities to foster acceptance and tolerance for all of us as unique individuals and the beauty that brings our lives.
- Cultivate a culture of acceptance and compassion in your household. Seek out different cultural opportunities through community events, different types of restaurants, reading books about different types of people, learn vocabulary in different languages, and seek out a diverse group of friends. Celebrate diversity and embrace the beauty of the world because of differences. Discuss how boring the world would be if we were all the same and that different is good!
- Monitor exposure to media- both yours and your kids’! It’s no secret that we spend too much time staring at screens, and even more so being “safer at home”. We are constantly bombarded with statistics, images, voices, and just too much outside noise and stimulation, often with inaccurate information and lots of emotionally charged view points. We need to be very mindful of what we are exposing our kids and ourselves too. Even if you don’t think the kids are paying attention to what you are watching or listening to, trust me, they are! For your own sanity and theirs, turn off the news and limit use of your phone! Take 5-10 minutes to watch the news headlines or social media to check updates and then make better use of your time by being present with family members- playing a game, listening to music, going on an outing, or completing a home project you’ve been wanting to get to.
- Give back as a family. Spreading love and joy is often done through service to others. By volunteering for organization who help those who have struggled due to mental illness, racism, oppression, and homelessness, we can change the dynamic of our society. Packing lunches for shelters, cleaning graffiti, giving time to advocacy agencies, donating funding for awareness campaigns are all ways to give back and to be part of the change we need to see in this world. This is a great way to model having empathy and respect for others.
- Practice gratitude. This ends up on any of my lists or recommendations, but it is hugely important to our well being. Regardless of what is going on in the world, implement a gratitude practice as a family. At dinner, or before bed time, have each family member share three things they are grateful for that day.
- Get outside! Nature is a great stress reliever and puts a lot of things in perspective. Walking and talking is a great way to have these tough discussions in a less intimidating setting than sitting at a table, staring at each other. Go for a walk or a hike. Watch the clouds or sit in the grass. Any of these opportunities can be a great place for purposeful conversation.