How to talk to your child about race and racism
Talking to your child about race and racism can be sensitive and difficult. Geoffrey Williams, LPC, director of Prisma Health–Midlands Outpatient Behavioral Care programs, offered some guidelines on how to navigate the conversation.
“One thing I would advise all people to do is to have an open conversation about how we don’t judge people or qualify people because of who and what they are. What you look like has no bearing on your ability, your character or your intention.”
Williams said behaviors do fall into specific categories. “There are right and wrong behaviors. We want to teach our kids what is expected of them according to the values that we have in our family. And then we should hold our children and our friends to that standard.”
Tips for discussing race and racism with your child
Williams offered these suggestions for discussing race and racism with your child:
- Speak in terms your child is able to understand. Use an age-appropriate tool that reinforces equality, such as a children’s book. These are available through a variety of resources, such as your local library or online.
- Explore your child’s curiosity. Ask questions such as, “What do you think about what you’re seeing?” and “That’s really scary to see people so upset with each other, isn’t it?”
- Acknowledge your child’s experiences. This has a lot of power to affirm their sense of security. They want to know if they’re going to be okay and if their family members are going to be okay.
- Educate your child. Expose them to other people, cultures and belief systems that encourage tolerance and courage.
- Encourage tolerance. Emphasize skills that grow tolerance to beliefs that are different. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable if we’re offended; however, we want to grow our skills to work through that by acknowledging and learning about others.
What do you do when your child says they’re being teased about their race?
Williams encouraged parents to check their own emotions before they respond to a child’s comment or question. “You don’t have to answer any question right away. Consider delaying that response and say, ‘That’s a pretty important question. What made you think about that?’”
Other tips include:
- Get the full context of where the question or comment came from. Once you have the context, you’re more prepared to respond.
- Provide affirmation. It’s important to tell children that you love them just as they are.
- Provide reassurance. Let them know they’re not alone and you can figure it out together.
What parents can do for themselves
Williams said it’s important to have balanced exposure to news reports about racism. “Parents should avoid extremes of oversaturation or isolation,” he said.
He also offered these suggestions for seeking out healthy communication:
- Have a conversation with a small church group, youth group or club.
- Stay connected with people who are supportive.
- Talk to a professional.
“Prisma Health has extensive programs for adolescents and adults to receive treatment when there is impairment in your daily functioning,” said Williams.
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