Raising children in unsettling and often turbulent times can often seem daunting. It feels as though you can’t turn on the t.v., scroll through social media, or even walk down the aisle of the grocery store without someone giving their opinions. We fail to remember at times that through all of this your children are listening and seeing it all. So what do all of these images and conversations mean to your child? What do they understand? Most importantly what is their perception?
For most if you mention the word “racism” it hits a nerve. Do I talk to my child about racism? At what age do you begin this conversation? How can I relate this very heated topic in way that they can comprehend? Setting politics aside, Barak Obama reminded us all of a very poignant quote.
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion ... People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love... ...For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite," – Nelson Mandela
In the real world we have to accept that our children may make comments that come across as prejudiced. This doesn’t mean that your child is a racist. Often time’s children are simply repeating what they have heard others say. This as a parent gives you an opportunity to ask questions and open the door to conversations. I can’t stress enough that these conversations need to be age appropriate. Tailor the message to their age group. Children 7 and younger may take in everything that is said to them, including their own experiences. After the age of 10, your child’s own experiences matter more than what we say. When a child is young you can talk about diversity, and equality, but as children grow older you can encourage your child to interact with various ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. There are valuable lessons for your children to learn as they’re developing their autonomy.
There is no greater mentor for your child than you! Children often mimic and interpret meaning from behaviors they see from you. Their eyes and ears are always on you. This makes it that much more important for us as adults to become role models that exhibit behaviors that we want to see in our children. Let’s broaden our horizons by becoming more active in multicultural events in our community. Children want to know that they are safe in new environments so please be aware and respond to new experiences in a calm, thoughtful, and honest manner.
As it says by our front door “Share our similarities and celebrate our differences”. Don’t be afraid to talk about race. It does your child a disservice if we act as if we’re color blind. Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spellman College attributes awkwardness of the race talk to lack of communication about race in many of our own childhoods. “There are concerns about saying the wrong thing and sounding racist, even if that is not the intent. Talking about race with children does not cause children to notice race in a way that they did not before”.
Are you not sure about how to start the conversation? You are not alone! Try and find the natural openings when having conversations with your child. I read one example where a mother and her son were cooking and there were 2 different color eggs. When the last white egg was used the mother took out another carton from the fridge and this time the carton was filled with brown eggs. The son noted that the eggs were brown and as they cracked the egg the mother pointed out that both the white and brown eggs were the same inside. Just like people, they come in all different shades, but they are the same inside.
It’s important to remember to turn the t.v. off and take a break from social media sometimes. Children do not benefit from seeing dramatic and unsettling images; especially younger children. It’s important to find that artful balance of being transparent and not to over stimulate them with details. You may need to give them help in articulating what they’ve seen and how they feel. Remember, even if you have shielded your child at home children hear things at school and at the center. Simply by keeping your ears open to peer conversations and interactions you can get a pretty good handle on what your child may know.
Jaime Gonce has been working at Walnut Acres Children's Center for over 10 years and is now Director of the center. She has a masters in Child Counseling and attended San Diego State and California State University, East Bay.