As parents, it often catches us off guard. Your child heard something at school or saw on the news, and has questions about race. What is Black Lives Matter about? Why are people upset? Why are people treated differently?
Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School recently hosted a webinar titled: “I Don’t Know What to Say: Talking to Children About Race”. In this session, Gretchen explained that talking with children isn’t just a nice thing, it’s necessary. Here are some tips from Gretchen that can help you open an informed, positive dialogue about race with your child.
You can watch the entire recorded session on CH-CH’s YouTube channel here:
Before getting into the tips, let’s look at a few reasons why the discussion about race is so important to have with your children:
It starts younger than you may think
Studies have shown that children as young as 6 months old can show racial bias. This shows that the development of an unconscious bias can develop well before we are even aware of race. This supports the case that there really is no “too early” when it comes to discussing race.
The conversation is already happening
Even if you are not actively discussing race at home, it is likely something that is on their mind. It’s important to make sure that they are not processing this alone. As parents, our job is to help them process this in a healthy way.
Silence is a problem
The first instinct may be to avoid or deflect when this potentially difficult conversation arises. But, If we avoid this important conversation, we are sending a message that this is not something we are supposed to talk about.
There is good news! With the right preparation and mindset, the discussion of race with children can be a positive experience, that brings you closer together.
Tips for Discussing Race with your Children
As the saying goes, the best time to start was yesterday, the next best time is now. It’s important to be mindful of the importance the topic has on your child, especially if they come to you. If they are asking any questions about race, then the time is right to start the discussion.
Face Your Own Biases
Nobody is perfect, and it's important that we start this conversation by being honest with ourselves about the fact that we each hold our own biases. One step you can take that can be an eye-opener is taking an implicit bias test online.
Know and Love Who You Are
It’s important for you and your child to know where you and your family came from. What is your own heritage and lineage? What is your own personal family history? This is a great opportunity to talk about the story of your family and learn from the decisions they made, and what they accomplished. Develop racial-cultural literacy:
If there’s something you don’t know, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know”. Watch this clip from the Today show that shows an example of being honest when you just don’t know what to say:
People remember stories. If you have a story about race, share it! In past generations, race was considered an untouchable topic around the dinner table, but this is quickly changing.
There are great stories that others have told that are powerful as well. Here is an example of a story about how Fred Rogers used his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to make a statement on race.
Develop a Cultural Literacy
There is no shortage of books, TV shows, and movies that can help you feel more fluent in these conversations about race with your children. This can be something you work on together with your child if there is a book, TV show, or movie that you can read or watch together, then discuss what you’ve learned. Here are a few examples to get you started:
Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint
This is an evolutionary conversation, it will happen over time. You will not be having the “one and only” conversation about race, but many over time. By going in with the mindset of a marathon, you’ll be ready to continue steadily along, growing together.
We hope that these tips help give you a jumping-off point to having important conversations about race with your children. Remember that as a parent you have already done and will continue to do many difficult things. You have the power to have these conversations and make a positive impact on your family and in the world.
Gretchen Cook-Anderson is a wife, mother of three, and marketing executive with 25+ years of promoting space discoveries for NASA, Mars candy, entertainers in Hollywood, candidates for political office, study abroad, and a host of household products. Gretchen leads diversity and inclusion-related marketing outreach for a large global nonprofit, IES Abroad, which educates about 9,000 US college/university students abroad each year across 35 international cities. Her award-winning work and team management has led to 151% growth in enrollment diversity during her 9+ years at IES Abroad. She is active as a board member for several local community-based organizations (Needham Diversity Initiative, Facing History & Ourselves, North Hill Senior Community, United South End Settlements) and independent schools (Belmont Hill School & Dana Hall School), cares deeply about social justice and equity, and speaks publicly on related themes dozens of times locally and nationally each year.
Gretchen is an alumna of Spelman College (B.A. Political Science) and The Johns Hopkins University's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (dual M.A. International Economics/Japanese Studies). She lives in Needham.