Tip of the Month: How to Talk to Your Kids about Race and Racism
How to Talk to Your Kids about Race and Racism
How does race play a role in our daily experience? For people of color, they are aware of their race on a daily basis. An example of this can be in school situations where kids are using the “N” word or pointing out how kids look different. How do you translate or share these issues of racism and violence with your children in a developmentally appropriate way? What we do know about adversity, which includes racism, is that it can make you sick. Racism, in and of itself is a public health crisis. Children’s experiences with racism before their 18th birthday can lead to a potential of a lifelong sequala. Research by Dr. Dayna Long, done with the pediatric population shows that about 15% of our kids, with the average age of 5-6 years old, have already experienced significant discrimination. Recognizing that more adversity then falls into this bucket we are then seeing consequences that can lead to difficulties in school or chronic disease management. There has been compelling research to show that direct experience of discrimination can lead to mental health, depression and anxiety but there can also be a perpetual worrying of racism and/or discrimination that can lead a child to become distracted and have trouble concentrating in school. When we have children of color placed in our home, we can’t be unrealistic and teach them to be “color blind.” We have to be aware that their experiences as a person of color are different and need to teach them about safe spaces and brave spaces. Children as young as 3 months old can detect the difference in skin tone and hair texture in their caregivers. We can’t act as though these differences are not there because then it suggests we can’t talk about something obvious. To silence this diversity can be confusing to children. As caregivers we need to provide the safe and brave space for children to talk about these differences without feeling shame. If we don’t provide the space for this conversation to take place, then kids will fill in the blanks or listen to the media or become misinformed by peers. As caregivers it requires us to actively educate and shape their neurological development with healthy counter acting messages that are anti-racist. We need to remember that skin color, hair and race and ethnicity need to be celebrated. Have you ever experienced your child blurting out “Mom, that person is so dark!” and try to hush them immediately? Instead, our response should be, “Isn’t it beautiful?” or “Isn’t it amazing how we all have different skin and different hair? We are all different heights and we all like different things!” We can shift the conversation from the focus on the skin tone and turn it more into an appreciation about diversity. Understand that this is a perpetual process and keep in mind the child’s developmental age.
Here are some ways you can teach and/or talk to your children about Racism:
The primary way kids under 5 years old learn is through exposure and role modeling. Think about who is in your social group, school and neighborhood. What type of books, toys and cartoons do you share with your kids? Seek out role models who look like your children and who can become mentors.
Talk to them about certain situations that can happen and how they can speak up if they witness an injustice taking place such as if a friend of theirs is called a racial slur. Teach them to speak up in an appropriate way: “I don’t like that you called my friend that name.” Let them know they can also come tell you, their principal or a teacher.
Seek out community events where your children can be exposed to different cultures. You can look into events at MAA Wellness Center located at 3146 E. Wier Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85040.
Children in care have already experienced adversities and therefore they can already be experiencing toxic trauma. Science supports that these adverse experiences can be balanced by positive experiences. The greatest buffer for adversity is for our children to have a safe stable relationship with their caregivers and in safe environments. We need to verbally let children know we will always be in their corner and that they are loved.
Talk, talk, and talk some more. Ask them what are they hearing, did they overhear you talking about a recent event or did they see it on the news? With younger kids if they saw something on tv you can say: “What did you see? How did you understand it? Let me explain, what happened was unjust and it should never have happened, but I want to let you know that in this moment and in this space you are safe.”
Here are some books you can read with your children to start the conversation:
Author: Kathryn Otoshi
An engaging story for very young children based on colors and numbers about “blue”, a quiet color, who gets bullied by “hot head red.” When no one speaks up, things get out of hand- until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count. As budding young readers learn about numbers, country and primary and secondary colors, they also learn about accepting each other’s differences and how it sometimes just takes one voice to make everyone count.
The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
This powerful lyrical picture book describes those familiar moments when a child may be marked as an outsider among their peers because of their home language, or the color of their skin, or the “different” food they bring for lunch. This book could be used to foster meaningful personal connections and anchor discussions about community in younger elementary grades.
Author: Ibram X. Kendi
Take your first steps with Antiracist Baby! Or rather, follow Antiracist Baby’s nine easy steps for building a more equitable world.
With bold art and thoughtful yet playful text, Antiracist Baby introduces the youngest readers and the grown-ups in their lives to the concept and power of antiracism. Providing the language necessary to begin critical conversations at the earliest age, Antiracist Baby is the perfect gift for readers of all ages dedicated to forming a just society.
Different Differenter: An Activity Book About Skin Color
Author: Jyoti Gupta
Different Differenter is an activity book for children that thoughtfully addresses everyday skin color consciousness and bias in a way that’s easy to understand.
Children’s rich observations and questions about color, caste, and race elicit accurate yet straightforward responses. Jyoti’s art-and-craft-based book takes you on a playful and creative discovery to find answers that work for you and your family–while creatively introducing facts of history and 15-plus new words. Make art. Perform a play for the nanas when they’re in town. Eat a yummy homemade dessert. Ooh! and aah! about how each member of the family has a different skin color. Do away with the rhetoric, the baggage of what’s taboo or politically correct! Lead the dialogue with your children and help them embrace the values of social justice and equity.
Look for more books!
Places to visit to learn about Black History
1.) Phoenix: Historic Tanner Chapel AME Church
2.) Tucson: Dunbar Pavilion African American Arts & Cultural Center
3.) Sierra Vista: Fort Huachuca Museum
4.) Camp Verde: Fort Verde State Historic Park
5.) Flagstaff: Murdoch Community Center
6.) Yuma: Alex Dees Memorial Team Roping Classic
More ways to Start the Conversation: