Childhood years are formative: kids learn, grow, and develop beliefs that guide them the rest of their lives. In fact, one prominent research study performed at NYU determined that most of a child’s beliefs about diversity and race are influenced by cultural factors and the makeup of their immediate environment. So what does this mean for us as parents? If racial prejudice is learned, it is part of our responsibility to engage in open conversations with our children about these difficult topics.
In light of recent intense protests and the escalation of racial tensions across the globe, many of us with young children are faced with the internal dilemma of wanting to keep our kids free from worry while also wanting to educate and guide them. For the first time, some parents may be forced to answer questions about race and identity. Having “the talk” with kids while navigating the heavy news landscape can feel like an almost impossible battle. While the task may be difficult, parents should see this as an opportunity to help their children foster a sense of understanding, acceptance, empathy and appreciation for people of all race and culture.
Starting the Conversation
Address What They Might Have Heard Already
Between the prevalence of the media, graphic images on the internet, and gossip from friends, children may feel confused with so much conflicting information circulating. Ask questions about what they have seen and how they are feeling. Validate any emotions they may have and let them know that they are safe. By creating a comfortable space to talk about the issues, children will feel less distressed or scared.
Remain transparent and honest with your child when answering questions. Though talking about racial issues early on isn’t easy, refraining from the conversation altogether can lead to false assumptions later down the line. Be open and honest with your child. While it can be tempting to gloss over the issue of racism, giving them the historical context is important to help educate them. Instead of teaching children to ignore race, encourage them to value and cherish the power of diversity moving forward. Use the opportunity to expose them to different ideas and celebrate cultures from around the world. Diversity should be celebrated, not divisive.
Lead By Example
Be mindful of the way you speak and how you treat others on a daily basis. Set the tone for a climate of empathy and compassion when talking to family, friends, service workers, strangers, and beyond! Be an ally for people of all race, gender, and background. Treating others with kindness goes a long way and children will remember and mirror your actions later on.
Keep the Conversation Going
The talk about diversity and inclusion doesn’t have to be one and done! Stay committed to talking through any questions your child may have or addressing any ongoing issues. Discuss ways your family can support an inclusive society together in the future. Help expose them to diverse media, TV shows, music, books, and ideas from an early age onward.
Remind Them You Love Them
Remind them that no matter what is going on in the world, you love them and are there to support them. If this is their first time contemplating racial issues, they may initially feel scared or unsettled. Reassuring them that the world is full of amazing, loving people will go a long way.
End on a hopeful note. Inspire your child to be the positive change they wish to see in the world. They are part of a generation with the ability to make a powerful impact. Remind them that they have the exciting opportunity to influence their own future and the future of their peers.
More tips on talking to children about race: https://www.parenttoolkit.com/social-and-emotional-development/advice/social-awareness/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-race-and-racism
31 Children’s books to support conversations on race:
The Conscious Kid (an educational non-profit committed to helping parents navigate dilemmas of race and equity): https://www.instagram.com/theconsciouskid/
The American Psychological Association (more resources for parents): https://www.apa.org/res/parent-resources/
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