Many of us are feeling deep sadness, anger, and even disillusionment about the racism in our country, and how our society has been reacting to it. Most of us have never experienced the kinds of injustice Black Americans have experienced for centuries. I can say for myself—and I’m sure you would agree for yourself—that we have gotten very comfortable with the status quo. We have been absorbed in our own lives and worlds so much that we have grown blind to the everyday injustices happening across our nation. Or perhaps we have felt overwhelmed and haven’t cared enough to make this important to us. But now we get to take a closer look; we get to pay attention to what is happening, and we have something we can do as parents. We can make it a priority to talk to our kids about racism.
Why Talk to Your Kids About Racism
I’ve been rediscovering what it means to be a parent during these challenging times. Being a parent means that through your children, you get to help shape what our nation is becoming. You get to help how Black Americans are viewed and treated in this nation. By helping our children see the imago dei in others, they’ll learn how to value people, value their skin color, value their cultures. and their lives. Talking to your kids about racism will help them see the wrongs we—and our society—have inflicted on people so they won’t make the same mistakes themselves. What a legacy to leave our children: a show of humility, a confession of complicity, a cry of repentance, and call to change.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Racism
So, how do we do it? How do we talk to our kids about racism when it is so ugly, violent, and scary? There is no specific right or wrong way to talk to address this issue, but there are some guidelines to help you be intentional in having these conversations. Here’s some of what I’ve been rediscovering during this season:
Do Talk about Racism with your Kids
Don’t avoid the conversation. Don’t shy away from this hard topic with your kids. Talk openly and honestly about race early on and often. Kids can learn harmful lessons about race when it’s not discussed openly. According to Dr. Ashaunta Anderson, “by ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias. By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.”
Use Developmentally Appropriate Language
Not every detail about what happens in the news and society is appropriate for every aged child. Additionally, what I communicate to my child may not be appropriate for your child. Even though my kids are 5 years apart in age, I generally say the same things to them as we sit at the dinner table together. I toggle back and forth using more sophisticated words for my oldest and then simpler synonyms for the words I just used.
I don’t shy away from hard topics—like death—with my children. We talk about hard things and I give them space to ask questions and talk about it. And then, because they are children, I always end reassuring them that they are safe; that mommy and daddy will protect them; that God is big; and that we can pray and ask him for help and he will hear us.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say I Don’t Know
When talking to you your kids about racism, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Being a parent doesn’t mean you have to have all of the answers. Not having all the answers will give your child permission to do the same. Saying, “I don’t know, but we can learn together,” can help your child grow into an adult who is willing to be a lifelong learner.
Stay Calm But Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion
With a topic as sensitive as this, emotions can run high, from anger and rage, to sadness and despair. When talking to our children it is important to stay calm as to not overwhelm our children. But it is equally important to show appropriate emotion for the events that we’ve seen and heard about. We should be mad and sad about this issue. If your children show emotion by crying, that is a great time to pause, hug them, hold them and affirm their tears make sense, and are good for something like this. We should be sad about this; we should be mad about these things that are happening.
One of the most important ways we can work towards racial justice in our world—and strengthen how we talk to our kids about racism—is to educate ourselves. Start with learning about yourself. Ask yourself, “How did my family think/talk about Black or Brown people when I was growing up?” Dig deep and long about how your family did and didn’t talk about race, and discover the messages you learned from the talk and the silence or behaviors. My husband, Rich Villodas, has a great resource for adults on how to think about the Gospel and Race and some next steps to take. To get this resource you can sign up for his emails and get this free download.
Another thing to do is to read, watch documentaries and educate yourself about the history of racism in this country, and about different concepts pertaining to racism. Be a learner and listener. But as you learn do not stop talking to your kids about race and racism. You don’t need to be an expert on race and racism to teach your kids how to think about it.
When talking to your kids about racism it’s important to keep communication open. Talk about race and ethnic identity often. Talk about how wonderful and beautiful it is that God made us with so many different colors of skin. Talk about how having different color skin doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else or less important than anyone else. Use developmentally appropriate language in helping them understand this hard topic. Don’t be afraid to show emotion on this complicated topic, but stay calm to help your child learn appropriate reactions to injustice. Finally, while you talk to your child, educate yourself. Learn about how your culture or race has typically interacted with Black, Brown, or Asian people. Learn about this country’s history and how it has brought us to where we are today.
Talking often, being honest, not shying away from hard things, learning and growing will help you, your kids and your family advance God’s Kingdom on earth. Little by little, day by day, push against the forces of darkness, and demonstrate God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.