Starting Tough Conversations With Our Children: Where Do We Begin?
Adults all over the world are overcome with anger, sadness, disbelief, and an evolving wheel of emotions over what is going on in the world today. Our kids hear more than we think – and they react to our stress even if we think we aren’t showing it. They look to us seeking comfort and guidance – and to help them understand topics that, even for adults, are impossible to grasp.
Our communities, both around the world and online, are exploding with hurt over racism and police brutality. We, as parents, are faced with either having to have the same conversation again (with no new answers or hope to give) or grappling to find the right words if we’ve never discussed the topic before. One thing we know, without a doubt, is avoiding the topic is not a solution.
GoNoodle believes firmly that everyone deserves to live in a world free of hate. As parents, teachers, and leaders to our future generations, the responsibility is in our hands to open the eyes of our children to systematic racism and instill in them how to identify it and then work to put an end to it. So, where do we begin?
We live in an age where most information is readily available at the click of a button or the swipe of a finger. Learning more about the world around us has never been easier or more convenient. However, the constant stream of information is overwhelming and often leads to our kids getting visibility into a situation before we have prepared ourselves to address it. And, this convenience can’t be considered a benefit until we come to realize that learning is not the same as understanding.
We need to empower our children to know that true understanding comes when we not only have the awareness and knowledge of something but when we finally acquire the discernment of how and when to use our knowledge to the best of our ability. It doesn’t mean we have all the answers right now – no one does. But, we need to bring our kids comfort, honesty, and some starter tools so they can become the future we all hope to see. Below we have provided a few resources that might help answer some of the questions we find ourselves asking – or at least offer a place from which to start the conversation. We hope these will offer help and guidance as you navigate these difficult times with the children in your life.
Starting The Conversation:
USA Today spoke with Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist and author of “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race” here are some suggestions we found helpful. Check out the article for more ideas.
- If a child says they are afraid or angry, what do you say?
Beverly Daniel Tatum: Acknowledge the child’s feelings. The parent may have similar feelings. “I know it’s upsetting to hear about and see these things happening. It upsets me too when bad things like this happen. Racism is very unfair. But it makes me feel better to know there are lots of people who want to change things.” Being able to offer specific examples of community change agents would be useful. Being able to talk about what family members are doing to speak up against unfairness is especially useful. Actions always speak louder than words..
- How do parents start these conversations and how does that change depending on the age of their children?
BDT: Regardless of the age of the child, it is important to balance acknowledging the reality of racism, or unfairness, with messages about the possibility of change, and the community of allies who are working together to make things better.
- Should these conversations be different depending on the race of the child?
BDT: Children of color are likely to experience racist encounters as they get older. They need to be helped to understand their own worth and feel affirmed in their identity as young people of color despite the negative messages they may get from others. Parents of color want to raise self-confident and empowered children who are not demoralized by other people’s racism. This requires lots of conversation about racism and how to resist it in an ongoing way throughout their children’s lives.
White children are often racially isolated as a consequence of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and consequently limited in their understanding of people different from themselves. White parents who want to interrupt the cycle of racism must learn to talk to their children about it and model their own anti-racist activity.
- If a child says they are afraid or angry, what do you say?
BDT: Acknowledge the child’s feelings. The parent may have similar feelings. “I know it’s upsetting to hear about and see these things happening. It upsets me too when bad things like this happen. Racism is very unfair. But it makes me feel better to know there are lots of people who want to change things.” Being able to offer specific examples of community change agents would be useful. Being able to talk about what family members are doing to speak up against unfairness is especially useful. Actions always speak louder than words.
Other Resources For Parents:
- Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter:
An interesting perspective on how being a parent changes the way you approach this movement.
- Moments like now are why we teach’:
A look at how educators are tackling tough conversations about race and violence while separated from their students by COVID-19.
- Multicultural & Social Justice Books
This project from Teaching for Change is a great source for curated reading lists for kids. For young children (ages 4-8) consider Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, Daddy Why Am I Brown?: A healthy conversation about skin color and family by Bedford F. Palmer, and A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret Holmes
Here at GoNoodle, we aim to empower kids and turn curiosity into compassion. We are deeply aware that now, more than ever, compassion begins at home. We know that approaching these difficult conversations will not look the same for everyone. We know that the questions that are asked – and the answers you give – will be varied and vast. But it is our sincere hope that the ultimate outcome of the work we all do with the kids in our lives in the coming months and years will lead to a true and lasting change to an inclusive, safe-for-all world.