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When it comes to loaded issues like racism, many parents are hesitant to start the conversation. No one wants to say the wrong thing or plant ideas in a child’s head that might cause them to think less of themselves or others.
The nation’s current racial dilemma and its connection with our most powerful elected officials is a complex topic to explain to a child. However, experts say it’s never too early to expose kids to these controversial issues. If you do it the right way, kids will have more time to learn and experience the world around them with more context than they had yesterday.
In the mind of a child, it can be easy to dismiss a person as merely good or bad. As adults, we know the truth is more complicated than that. This is not to suggest that you should defend racist acts, but instead, instill in your child the idea that it’s better to be empathetic than hateful.
Examples are a good way to help children understand the concepts at hand without digging into scary situations like the Charlottesville rallies. Showing them pictures of guys with torches and hateful signs might not be the best place to start.
Instead, start with talking about the Civil Rights movement, and how some of the racism is still around today. Show them that there are plenty of groups out there that are fighting back against racism, especially at schools where your children will be.
Don’t Overreact If Your Child Says Something Surprising
Children often repeat things they hear without even knowing what they mean. That doesn’t mean they have no concept of race — they just haven’t developed a strong enough sense of morality to navigate all the complexities.
Researchers have observed children acting on race as early as two or three years old. However, the way they experience race isn’t a societal ideal like it is for adults — it’s just a basic response to something they see as different.
If your kids do have things to say or questions to ask about a friend or classmate’s race, be open to them. If they have formed negative feelings toward someone because of their race, ask them why. You might find an opportunity to coach them away from preconceived notions borne out of the wrong perception of why someone looks different than they do.
Seek First to Understand
Even though the conversation about race can be uncomfortable, having this type of conversation with a younger child can set the tone for the way you work through these types of things in the future. Let them know you’re glad you discussed it, and that they can come to you if they’re ever unsure about the right way to act.
They’ve probably been in arguments with classmates, siblings or relatives, or even observed adults who disagreed with one another. Teach them that even when we have differences, it’s important to be willing to see things from the other person’s perspective.
Craft Your Message
The way you manage this conversation will differ depending on how old your children are. An infant doesn’t have the intelligence to comprehend concepts of race as completely as a grade-school-age child. However, you should try and be as forthcoming as you can, considering the child’s level of development.
You are your child’s biggest role model, and no matter what they might take from their friends at school or what they see on TV, your actions play a leading role in who they grow into. Practice letting them see you treat people of different races as equals.
Unpacking the issue of race requires some tact on your part, but you don’t have to dwell on negativity to teach your child to be empathetic and compassionate.
Remember, nobody is born inherently hating anything or anyone. Depending on their experiences, your kids might not have observed hateful acts yet. Your job is to prepare them so they know how to recognize and act on prejudicial behavior.
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