Talking to Children about Racism
We need to be proactive and talk with our children about racism, protests, and riots. The death of George Floyd has impacted us all. Covid-19 created a time of unexpressed feelings and fears for many, and now a wave of grief and frustration has arisen after the heartbreaking murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer was caught on tape and broadcast across the world.
Children and teens have just been emerging from a time of isolation and frustration. During this time, many young people were immersed in television, phones, and social media. The reality is that many of them have seen the footage of George Floyd being killed and are aware of the turmoil surrounding this. This image is seared in our minds and is traumatic for us all – particularly our young people. Children are aware that adults in their lives are upset and anxious about what is happening in the world. Although we may have our own struggles going on right now, we also need to guide our children through these overwhelming times.
Talking to your children will help them build skills to think critically, resolve conflict and to soothe themselves when anxious or upset. It is also important to remember that each person has their own experience of racism and how we have been impacted personally as an individual or collectively as a family with shape the way we talk to our children about racism.
1. Check in with Your Children
- Ask them what they already know.
- Do not avoid the topic. You may want to protect your children from all of this – but to avoid things makes things worse and children might get misinformation if you do not take the lead and guide them.
- Encourage questions – even if you do not have the answers.
- Do not be afraid to begin the conversation, this is all part of developing critical thinking in your children.
2. Stop and Listen
- Take time to listen to them – this will show that you care about their feelings, ideas, and values.
- Validate their feelings.
3. Be Calm and Factual
- Children take their cues from parents, so talking to them calmly helps them process information and feel secure.
- It is ok if you have strong emotions about this as you can model to your children this is important and you care about what is happening – but try not to let your own feelings overwhelm the conversation.
4. Be Honest in an Age Appropriate Way
How we approach and guide our children will vary depending upon their age and stage of development.
- Discuss differences and diversity as a positive part of humans.
- Young children tend to be very inquisitive, which gives you the opportunity to address misinformation and concerns.
- Let them know there are way more good apples than bad.
- You can offer an explanation that a police office hurt a black man named George Floyd and he died, and many people are upset about this and want change.
- Help them understand that difference between a protest and a riot. A protest is peaceful way of using words to stand up for what you believe. The protestors are letting others know they believe what happened was wrong. A riot is when anger takes over and people hurt people and things.
- Let your children know that in this family it is ok to be angry and speak about it, but you believe we need to work it out through words rather than hurt others and break things.
- Let your children know how you feel and what you believe. Let them know you feel it is wrong to treat people poorly based on the colour of their skin. Let them know that in your family you believe everyone deserves dignity and respect. Discuss differences and how some people are afraid of differences, but in your family, you embrace and celebrate differences.
- Do not try to avoid the upset, but do limit their screen time, and their exposure to the news.
- They are the most likely to be upset, angry and want justice – help them move their feelings by talking with them.
- Help them see that they can be part of building a better world.
- Talk to them about ways to express frustrations that can keeps their community and themselves safe.
- We need their idealism. There are many teens who are leaders in social justice and awareness. Invite your teen to get involved and to use their creativity to create solutions.
- Make it about what they can do rather than focus on what you do not want them to do.
5. Provide Reassurances
- For young children they need reassurance that their family will take care of them and keep them safe. Review the list of people who love them and keep them safe (teachers, family members, friends, neighbours)
- Reassure your teenagers that the world can get better and they can be a part of that.
6. Ground yourself
- Keep an eye on how much anxiety you may be experiencing – limit your own exposure to the news and social media.
- Get enough rest, sleep and exercise.
- Connect with your children and teens though activities you enjoy doing together.
If you have not already started this conversation begin it as soon as possible. And keep on talking about it.