Children might not be born knowing about racism and discrimination, but they are perceptive, and they know when someone is being treated differently. Or a child might experience discrimination themselves.
Conversations with our kids about racism and discrimination might not always been easy, but they need to happen. And the earlier we have them, the better. Giving kids the tools to help them navigate how to treat others, and how to react when others treat them differently, will benefit everyone.
To help parents and caregivers have these conversations with their children, Child Advocates of Indianapolis launched a workshop last year called Interrupting Racism for Children. The goal of the workshop is to acknowledge that racism exists, and to help parents and caregivers take steps to dismantle systemic racism. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the workshop has moved to a virtual platform and can be accessed completely online.
Child Advocates of Indianapolis believes that to begin breaking down the barriers of discrimination, parents and caregivers need to start with open and honest communication with their children. Here are some ways to do that.
Have Ongoing Conversations
Don’t expect to have “the talk” and it be over. Children learn about discrimination differently at different ages. Keep the conversations age appropriate, and you’ll be able to delve into more information as they get older. UNICEF suggests that for children ages 5 and under, start the conversation by celebrating differences.
Children at a young age understand the concept of fairness. With an open dialogue, be willing to answer questions they have about racism. You can say things like, “That doesn’t seem very fair, does it?” to get the conversation going.
As your child grows, social media, television and other outside sources begin to creep in. Children ages 6-11 are experiencing situations and hearing comments on a daily basis. Simply asking them what they are hearing and how they feel about it can get a conversation going about the right way to treat others.
At this age, children are more in touch with how they are feeling, but are often a jumble of emotion and unable to sort out the real issue. Look for opportunities in the television or online show they’re watching, or recall a conversation they had with a friend, to bring up serious topics and get their feelings on the subject.
As your child reaches pre-teen and teen years, they are equipped to understand and relate to current news and historical topics. Chances are, they know more and have experienced more than you think when it comes to discrimination. Talk to them about current events and encourage them to advocate for equality. This might mean speaking up when a friend says something discriminatory, or it might mean standing with a student who might be treated differently.
Above all else, kids of all ages are watching you. Do you laugh at racial jokes? Does your circle of friends include all races, religions and backgrounds? Do you avoid people of a different skin color? Your children are watching how you react, and they’ll follow your lead. Remember to set the example you want them to see.