With events unfolding around the world, it is more important than ever to learn how to talk to your child about race, human rights, and injustice. As the topic of civil rights is front and center, kids may have a hard time understanding what they see on the news or processing what they hear from adults. However, it is an issue that you must address head on, explaining the importance of fighting back against racial injustice and protecting human rights.
Additionally, it’s likely that your kids will have questions about the images they see and the conversations they hear. Whether they are very young, grade school aged, or teens, these issues cannot be ignored. It is up to us as role models that children look up to, to explain and educate the next generation and promote equality for all.
Speaking to Young Children
Experts state that children understand the concept of race, or at least skin color, as young as three years old. They can tell when others look different than them and often begin asking questions around this age. Kids this young may not have as much exposure to the news as older children, or comprehend the complex conversations happening around them, but it is still important to begin having conversations regarding racism with them.
When considering how to talk to your child about race, if they are this young it is best to keep the talks short and simple. You can explain that some people may look different than them, but on the inside they are the same. Explain that the way to decide who you are friends with is not how someone looks, but rather how they treat you. The earlier you begin promoting equality to your kids the more they will understand as they get older.
Additionally, you may want to explain that some people may say mean things to those with different skin color. This is an opportunity to teach your children that if they ever hear these things that it is wrong, and that they should always stand up for and defend those who are different. Very young children may not fully comprehend this concept now, but the lesson will stick with them as they grow.
Speaking to School-Aged Children
School-aged children are particularly impressionable. At this age they begin to repeat what they hear from their parents and those around them. Your children will likely be exposed to kids at school who say negative things. It’s important to speak to them about this. It’s also important to be mindful about what you say.
Ask them about what they hear at school and teach your children it is never okay to make comments about another person’s skin color. Continue instilling the value that all people are equal and that what matters is how they treat others. Tell them that those who say negative things about others based on their skin color are wrong.
During this time children are also susceptible to peer pressure or group mentality. If they hear their friends saying racist things they may join in to fit in, even if they don’t believe them. Explain that this is not okay and that even if they think they are joking that it is a very serious topic.
Speaking to Teens
By the time your children are teenagers they have the ability to understand what’s happening on the news as well as the conversations that are happening around them. They likely also have their own opinions on the matters. Teens today are more connected to the outside world than ever before, through smart phones and social media. It can be challenging to control what your teen sees when they’re online.
When considering how to talk to your child about race at this age, the best approach is to have an open and honest conversation. Ask them what they are seeing online and if they have any questions. Ask them what their feelings are on the matter. You may also want to ask them what their friends are saying. Now may be a good time to introduce the idea of not only disagreeing with racism, but being actively anti-racist.
While rejecting the idea of racism and embracing equality are both GR8 things to teach your children, in today’s world it’s essential that we also teach them to be anti-racist. You may not yet be familiar with the concept either, but as you learn you can teach your children.
Being anti-racist includes the following actions:
- Educating yourself on the history of racism
- Understanding how your experiences differ from those of other races
- Addressing your unconscious biases
- Speaking out against racism whenever and wherever you see it
- Call for action in your community when you recognize racist policies and practices
It’s important when you learn how to talk to your child about race that you also teach them how they can use their voice to promote social change in a safe and healthy way. Teach them about things such as signing petitions, writing to their local government representatives, and volunteering at organizations that support the cause. You may want to tell them about specific charities to which you donate.
For older children and teens, you can also watch documentaries about the history of racism in America, or read books that explain systemic racism. Make sure the media you expose your children to is age appropriate and that they will be able to understand the context and the message. For example, a very young child may only recognize the violence and not the lesson in certain media.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
The most important thing to recognize is that talking to your kids about racism and human rights is not a one-time thing, and actions speak louder than words. If your children see you taking steps to become actively anti-racist, they are more likely to follow.
Continue to have conversations about race, inequality, and human rights. If your children are young, keep instilling positive values in them as they grow. If your children are older, make it a regular occurrence to discuss the problems of racism openly. Let them know they can always come to you with questions about anything they see and hear.
It takes all of us to come together as a whole to fight back against racism and to promote social change.