How to Talk to Your Children About Racism
The issues of race and anti-racism are in the forefront of our minds, none of us can have escaped the global impact of the killing of George Floyd, the raising of awareness and the mobilisation of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Now appears to be the time to grasp this opportunity and consider how we, as parents, foster carers and caregivers, can make a difference too.
Now more than ever it is important we think about how we talk to our children about race and racism. For many of us, of course, this is not a new discussion and may well have been shaped by our own family history and ethnic diversity, our own values and life experiences and indeed as part of encouraging and promoting awareness, development and integration within a multi-cultural society.
Very sadly, you may have also had to have some very hard conversations if the child you care for has been the subject of racist abuse and had to support them through this.
However, the thought of bringing up a topic such as racism with your child can be quite daunting, especially if you have no personal experience in dealing with it. You could be worried about saying the wrong thing or unsure as to whether or not you understand racism enough to discuss it properly with a child.
Just like many matters, it is important that we do not leave all our child’s education and learning up to schools and that we facilitate positive learning environments in our homes and in our communities, as this is where children gather their most important life lessons which aid in their development into adulthood.
Unfortunately, as with many aspects of parenting, there are no set rules or guides that tell you the right and wrong way to discuss these issues with your children. You know your children more than anyone else does, and every family is different and will have different ways that work for you.
The most important thing is that we do not ignore or avoid bringing up the topic of racism with our children. It is such a huge issue that impacts both children and adults throughout the course of their lives, so acknowledging racism and talking openly about it is the key.
So How Do I Bring Up Racism With My Children?
To find out the best strategies for bringing up the topic of racism with your children, we spoke to Andrew Eastwood who has 30 years’ experience working with children as a Senior Educational Psychologist.
What’s the best way to teach your child about racism?
Lead by example. This is by far the most important thing to do when trying to teach your child about racism.
It is all well and good talking to your child about equality, fairness and how we should treat other people and how we expect to be treated ourselves. But if they see you discriminating against others based on their race or hear you using racist language, or indeed maintain a silence in the face of racism, they will learn and repeat those negative behaviours.
The way in which you respond to racism directed against you, your children and your community, will also be preparing your child for ways in which they will come to deal with racist comments and actions themselves now and into the future.
Remember challenging racism is like safeguarding, this is everyone’s business and responsibility, it is not just for those affected to raise the issue. For many children, their parents, foster carers or caregivers are often their biggest role models, which is why if you want to educate your child on the topic of racism, you must first understand it yourself and become actively anti-racist.
Make your interactions open and engaging and not one-off events
Young children enjoy participating with you and they learn really well through play or activities from an incredibly early age.
Beginning through play, a great way of including a young toddler or child is by ensuring inclusive play opportunities are readily and openly available, use methods they are familiar with and enjoy engaging with.
You may choose to include, for example, playing with dolls, with various skin tones and features or by reading age appropriate books with characters of different races and cultures with anti-racist messages, or the provision of books which celebrate Black History or engage in celebrations and seek opportunities to mix in and be exposed to diverse cultures. You may also find multi-cultural resource centres or online platforms which offer a vast array of material. Don’t let your exposure to other cultures only be in your foods!
Keep Things Positive but also ensure you have a positive regard for your children’s’ feelings
It’s really important to get a good idea of the level of understanding your child already has and their range of experience about race, racial stereotypes or perceptions before trying to develop their awareness and promote positive identity and awareness.
Recognise when your child or young person has been, hurt or is struggling to comprehend other’s reactions to themselves on the basis of discrimination or prejudice. Do not diminish their feelings, validate them, acknowledge and show true regard. Whilst you may not have the solution or be the expert, together you could consider ways to overcome and address situations to hand or which may arise again in the future.
If your child or young person shows racist behaviours or uses racist language it is not necessary to criticise or judge the child but it is important to challenge these comments. Remember the intention is not to diminish your child, but to bring them on a journey over time, that will continue throughout their childhood and adolescence, as you assist them to grow and develop into human beings who value diversity and difference and become our citizens of the future in a multicultural society.
Tell your children when you are proud of them for their feelings, opinions and views. Commend them when they stand up to racism, highlight their achievements in supporting and encouraging others to become anti-racist. Celebrate when they are prepared to speak out against discrimination. Everyone benefits from your positive feedback, not least of all your child who will note their own sense of self-worth and contribution.
Whilst you are caught up in this role as educator, do not forget what our children and young people can teach us too. They are attending nurseries, schools, mixing with peers, listening to and reading influential and inspirational ideas and probably have a limitless source of information they can share with you too. This will not be a one-dimensional, one-way imparting of wisdom but may prove to be an opportunity for greater family discussion.
We hope this article has been useful in providing some very brief advice on how to begin to discuss racism and its effects with your children. But remember this is not a one-off activity. This is an ongoing matter and one of the many life lessons that we pass on to all our children and we hope to achieve a society for our next generation less impacted by the racism of today.