It is difficult, confusing, and heartbreaking to watch for anyone. Many of us are asking, When will it end? And parents everywhere are asking, How do I talk to my kids about this?
First, it’s critical that you do talk to them. Your kids are hearing about what’s going on, they are seeing it on T.V. and social media. Their friends are talking about it, and they need you to talk to them. This image by artist Danielle Coke beautifully explains why it’s important to talk about racism in your own home:
During times like this, it is also important to turn to black voices. I was fortunate to interview Benjamin Watson a few years ago about race and diversity. He is a wonderful father, recently retired NFL player, author, activist, and so much more. I’ll never forget what he shared with me, and I find his words still applicable today.
If you’re not sure what to tell your kids about these recent events, I encourage you to heed his words.
Be a gateway, not a wall.
Benjamin shared with me that one of the best things his parents did for him and his siblings growing up was talk openly about issues of race.
“When you’re black, you’re always aware of race, from a very young age,” he says. “It was important for us to get a background and understanding of where we are to this day, and how we got here, collectively as a country, but also as black Americans. So one of the things I picked up from [my parents] is the importance of being the gateway for what my children hear, but not being a wall.”
This is an important distinction, parents. Don’t shelter your children from hard truths. Teach them the important facts, teach them the truth about history and be a gateway for them to ask questions and understand better. We will never reconcile with one another if we don’t first understand where people come from and the beauty of our differences.
Model how to love and accept others.
You, parent, have the power to raise a child who is empathetic, understanding and accepting of all people no matter their skin color, ethnicity or background. You also have the power to pass down judgment, prejudice and bitterness. The truth is, kids aren’t born racist. But over time, children often naturally adopt the characteristics and behavior they see portrayed as “normal” in their environment. Racism and bigotry are products of nurture, not nature.
Our kids often unfairly adopt our own prejudices much more than we realize or want to admit. Benjamin explained that while we all want to pass on certain ideals to our children, we often fall short of those ideals. “And so we have to constantly examine ourselves,” he says, “and be honest with ourselves about what our kids are learning from us.”
When it comes to racial reconciliation, we have a long way to go as a country. “It’s not a one-time fix,” says Watson. “We don’t just wipe the slate clean and become oblivious to race. There are going to be times when attitudes still creep back in…but the difference is, you can identify them, be willing to turn away from them and call them exactly what they are.”
Don’t just talk. Do.
I know many white families and parents may feel at a loss for words. When we don’t know what to say, that is a good time to do. Benjamin Watson and his wife, Kristen, began a foundation called One More to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those in their community. You can learn more about their organization and how to make a donation here.
There are numerous books for kids that address race and diversity. Here is a list of 31 different titles that will help you talk to your child about these incredibly important issues: “31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance.”
Parents, unhealthy attitudes about race may not have started with you, but they can stop with you.
As Danielle Coke’s artwork explains, before it lands in the newsroom or the courtroom, it starts in the living room. Be intentional and be honest while being aware of your own prejudice, words and actions. You have the power to raise a child who is loving and accepting of all people. Around your own dinner table, you can start a legacy of peace and reconciliation that will have a ripple effect in your children’s generation and beyond.