Talk with them, not at them. Make this a conversation they want to participate in—and further it with everyone in their lives as they grow.
In these stressful and challenging times, children need help coping with their emotions, especially Black children. They may see protests on the news, upset parents, and wonder how to make sense of it all. Some are even attending peaceful protests.
For toddlers and young children, common behavioral problems arise when they don't have the skills to assess what they're thinking, how they're feeling or the impact these thoughts and feelings are having on how they behave. It's up to parents to care for their children's mental and emotional health, especially when the news cycle is scary—or when we're having one of many necessary conversations about race.
Black parents' race conversations with their kids are wide-ranging—we talk about our own family, but also white people and other facets of life. We explain. We educate. We sigh with frustration. And then we send our kids back into the world and wait for the next race conversation. Race weighs heavily on Black parents' minds.
Here are tips I've learned while raising four children and caring for their mental and emotional health while teaching them about race:
Acknowledge what you are feeling first as a parent.
Know what you are feeling and why you feel the way you do. Be clear on the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing and what those thoughts and feelings mean to you.
In the heat of the moment, it's difficult to navigate your emotions and the emotions of your child. So when you have a moment to yourself, think through how you feel about race. Construct your narrative. Then tell your children your stories in age-appropriate ways. The more you are aware and can name your emotions, the better you will be at expressing them in race conversations.
Have age-appropriate conversations with your children about what they are feeling and thinking.
Even when they are very young, they can still pick up on the feelings of others. Children as young as two experience complex and deep emotions such as empathy or frustration. They just can't express it. By asking kids what they are thinking and feeling, parents help them build a thought and emotion framework that will give them the tools they need for a lifetime.
Talk about race often.
Of course, our children know they are Black, but too many times their friends, teachers, school administrators, other parents and society at large look at their Blackness through a stereotyped lens. We need to give our kids the correct perspective through which to view their race. Black is beautiful! Our kids need to know their worth, value and power from the time they come into the world. So have conversations about race in the safety of your home so that your kids can grow up in an environment in which they are celebrated and loved. Tell your children how beautiful, and smart and powerful they are!
Enlist the support of your village.
For hundreds of years, Black folk have had to have race conversations. Being in America demanded it. Our Big Mamas, Aunties, and Play Cousins have all had an integral part in helping us raise our kids. Don't fight alone. Enlist the help of your parents, grandparents and the community in order to help educate your children about race and race issues. Your children need to hear from you, their elders, and others about what it means to be Black in America. You don't have to do this alone.One of the most important things to remember and make an impact on your child's mental and emotional health is to talk with them, not at them. Make this a conversation they want to participate in—and further it with everyone in their lives as they grow.
- Sesame Street Town Hall on Racism - Motherly ›
- How to Talk to Kids About Protests + Racism - Motherly ›
- The honest way we discuss race with our biracial children - Motherly ›
- When to Seek Therapy for Your Child's Mental Health - Motherly ›