As a mother, I always want to protect my babies from anything that is painful, hurtful or unkind. But I’ve learnt that the best I can do is to be open with them, feel all emotions with them (the good and bad) and provide a safe space for understanding and accepting dialogue. Racism is one of those topics that we discuss as a family and I will continue to educate them and myself to be loving, accepting, tolerant, empathic people. It is mine and my husband’s responsibility to have these conversations about suffering and pain that is awfully inflicted by racism and discuss Black History with them.
All people are made in the image of God, babies aren’t born racist, it is either learnt consciously or subconsciously. I, with my husband and children, will continue our conversations and our learning, whilst we will never truly understand, and we will pray for our fellow brothers and sisters.
Here are my ways you can open up dialogue so children feel safe to discuss any topics, in particular the hard ones.
START WITH YOU, THEY WILL FOLLOW
The first place I would start is, openly start having conversations with your partner and friends. Little ears hear a lot. Let them hear you discussing the injustices in the world, white privilege and Black History. Show them that you are will to learn and are open to growing. Let them see you watching movies, documentaries and reading books. Don’t expect them to just open up about a topic or speak about it freely if you don’t. Lean into it, you never know, this might even spark discussion or get them asking questions.
YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS
Racism is a hard and painful topic, take the pressure off yourself, you don’t need to have all the answers, show your children that you are willing to learn together. If you don’t know the answer to their question, tell them that! And tell them together let’s find it out.
START WITH YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Research has shown children notice skin colour, just as they’d notice any other physical difference (i.e., glasses, long hair, or height). At the same time, children are learning to categorize – shapes, colours, and people. So, what ends up happening? Not talking about race causes children to come to a lot of harmful, problematic and factually inaccurate conclusions. If we teach children that racism is simply a thing of the past and that today we are all equal, children begin filling in the information gaps themselves, and their data points may not always be coming from the most reliable sources. So when children ask questions, use this as an opportunity to discuss topics of race so it is relatable to them.
MAKE IT RELATABLE
Children always are saying how unfair things are; they have to go to bed, their brother has their toy they want to play with or eat their vegetables. But use this opportunity to conceptualise racism and anti-racism to younger children. I love this analogy – give children balls of string and ask them to move around the room unravelling their balls of string to make a very tangled web. Once they are finished, ask them to untangle it. They will soon find that it is much more difficult to untangle the web than it was to create it in the first place. Then explain that working to make society fair is a lot like untangling this web. But sit with them and slowly, calmly untangle the web together. Discuss the emotions that rise up (anger, frustration, exhaustion). Show your child that racism is possible to untangle and they can be a part of the solution.
BOOKS AND STORYBOARDING
I love the Little People, Big Dreams series. This was how I introduced racism and anti-racism to our toddlers. Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King – there are so many in the series that not only discuss the pain that racism caused and how they were inflicted so much pain due to the colour of their skin but also celebrates black lives and achievements. Get your child to retell the story by using their strength or talent whether that is making a short video, storyboarding with LEGO, creating a song or drawing a picture. If the creative side comes easy to them with less processing, then they can focus their energy on their interpretation. Use their response to spark further conversation about the topic. Create “I wonder” questions which could lead to a project learning more about people that are marginalised and how they can make a difference.
JUST START & GO AT YOUR OWN PACE
Do exactly that. Whether you start with prayer, books or discussions. Just start today. You might be surprised, your kids might even teach you something. Be open and learn with them. Respond with openness and kindness. Keep learning and educating yourself and asking those tough questions and let those little ears hear you. Show them how you are making change and empower them to use their strengths to do the same. Remind them that they are perfectly made and have beautiful and wonderful gifts to share with this world and so do their friends, no matter what the colour of their skin is. Lift them up and don’t be a bystander.
Parents may worry that introducing the concept of racism could be damaging, or scary, especially if that child could be the target of racism, or if the parent has experienced racism themselves. But, instead of staying silent, it’s crucial to empower children. We need to raise the next generation of compassionate, empathetic, kind and tolerant kids.
For further information on book resources for kids that are age-specific, check out this article here.