As parents we have a responsibility to raise our children to live in a society that is always evolving – whether for the better is up for debate. However, over the last few years it’s been difficult to deny the current political and social landscape that our tiny humans will be growing up in and be exposed to. One of these exposures that’s inevitable is racism and prejudice against people of color or religious practice.
As parents it’s a challenge to sift through what’s happening in our country, let alone the world, as it relates to racism and decide which aspects to share with our children. I agree that it’s very heavy stuff and our natural response to tragedy or injustice is to shield our children from it. However, I am going to encourage you, for a moment, to follow me as we dive into a topic that may hit you in the feels. And that’s okay! It should!
In the attempts to equip myself with the tools to eventually have these discussions with Greyson, I found this article from Today’s Parent, an online Canadian resource on everything parenthood, to be extremely helpful. One of my biggest takeaways was…
It’s never too soon to begin talking about race.
One of the biggest opportunities we miss as parents, although we never intend to, is to overlook or shy away from discussing race in the first place. The idea of “not seeing color” is well intended, but it perpetuates this idea that those of color are not represented or visible at all in our parenting. Instead, we should see and celebrate the people of color in our lives and find a way to naturally do so.
This brings me to a very special point: it’s never too soon to begin openly discussing race. As parents, we need to begin to erase the stigmas behind the conversation itself and realize we have the ability to shape this next generation of children to be more tolerant and accepting of those that differ from them. For myself, raising a son who is interracial I find it increasingly important to become comfortable with such discussions and finding new ways to guide him to understanding himself and how he relates to his peers.
So, let’s dive into how we can comfortably do this…
Recognize every age has different needs.
As a teacher I have had multiple years of both educational and work experience with childhood development. Therefore, understanding that children go through a natural development as they grow, they will present their parents with a different set of needs as it relates to understanding people who are different from them and how they fit into the social puzzle.
Toddlers through early childhood (i.e. school-age children) can benefit from having an early start to an exposure to diversity. One easy way to do this is to fill home libraries with authors, characters, and stories that vary in culture or ethnicity. Being mindful to share TV shows, movies, or other forms of entertainment that include multi-cultural characters that your child can relate to is also really important. Since we’re living in an increasingly digital world, information and messages are being sent to our children and it’s up to us to equip our kids with ways to combat them.
Kids say the darndest things…
They truly do. But, they also say very honest things as well – often with no understanding of what it is they’re saying. This is where we, as parents, can really support our kids in asking honest questions and being prepared to answer them in a way that is age-appropriate and gives them context of the world around them. We also need to take their questions seriously no matter how silly they may ask them.
Discussing current events.
For me, this was a big one. Almost daily we’re inundated with stories about violence and vocal politicians spreading words of hate and ignorance. It’s hard to digest sometimes and there’s a real part of me that wants to preserve Greyson’s innocence and protect him from the world that can seem so ugly at times. However, I quickly realize that by doing so I’d be robbing him of an opportunity to make sense of the very same world he’s going to one day be an adult in. Ugly things like racism and intolerance are going to continue to be a very real aspect of Greyson’s life and it’s my job as his mom to best prepare him for it.
Discussing current events is something every parent has to evaluate in terms of their own values and determine what details or information is appropriate to discuss based on your child’s age. One way to do this is the simple approach of asking your child questions about what they heard or saw on the news or from friends and ask how it made them feel. By asking questions, you’ll get an idea of what’s bothering your child or what they’re curious about. Guide the conversation by being truthful, but also leaving room for your child to express their thoughts.
End ignorance with education.
One of my favorite quotes to live by is from an author named Harlan Ellison. He said, “You are not entitled to an opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” I have found this to be so important in our discussions about race or really anything that divides us. The more we educate ourselves the better chance we have at raising our children with a more balanced, tolerant, and inclusive attitude about people who are different whether it be the color of their skin, the religion they practice, or a disability they may have.
Let’s end ignorance once and for all.