Racism towards people of color is, unfortunately, something we are all aware of. Children are now growing up constantly connected to news and technology, which means they are aware of the violence of racism. If you have a child of color, they have likely experienced at least some form of racist act, slur, or microaggression. If this is something our children are experiencing, it is important we have conversations with them to help them understand and move forward committed to antiracism. Below are some tips for parents to enter into this difficult conversation.
1. Validate your children’s feelings. Simply check-in and see how your child is doing, especially after a publicized national or local violent racist incident. Know they might not express their feelings in words—they may withdraw, become more energized, or shift their sleeping patterns. Using art and play with kids can be a great way to engage their emotional life so you can get an idea of where they are at.
2. Don’t avoid talking about it. Many parents avoid difficult conversations with their kids because they think children are too young, it will make everyone uncomfortable, or they simply just don’t know the words to say. Children are extremely perceptive, so they need the guidance of adults to help them make sense of the world around them. It is okay if you don’t say all the right things or miss something important—you can always come back to the conversation. But begin it from somewhere.
3. Be clear, direct, and factual. Uncomfortable conversations are made even more uncomfortable with flowery, vague language. When it comes to racism, be extremely direct. It is okay to use the words “Black” and “white.” Emphasize that racial violence is wrong—not because of what the person of color did, but because of how white people treat and think of people of color. If you are a parent of a child of color, this piece is very important to prevent, as much as possible, internalized racism. Talk about the history of racism as well, and do all of this in a developmentally appropriate way.
4. Encourage questions, and don’t worry if you can’t answer them. As kids usually do, they will probably have a lot of questions. Encourage them to ask and critically engage with what you’re talking about. It is okay if you don’t have all the answers too—it is an opportunity for you to model curiosity, do some research, and learn together.
5. Check in with yourself. This will be a challenging conversation not only for your child, but likely for you too. If you are a parent of color, it can also be traumatic. Consistently check in with your emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. You can use the help of a trusted friend, partner, or professional for guidance in these conversations.
If you have been struggling and you are in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000.
Written by Kathryn
2021 Graduate Intern