Talking to children about race and racism: Expert explains when, how and why it’s important

Click to play video: 'Talking to children about race'
Talking to children about race
WATCH: Experts say children, even as early as infancy, aren't colourblind to race, and how parents talk about and explain these things will have a lasting impact. Global's Malika Karim has the details – Jun 24, 2020

With rallies held around the world to advocate justice for Black lives, the topic of race and racism may be something you’re discussing at home.

Associate clinical psychologist Arnella Myers says although it could be a daunting subject to breach because you want to protect your children from worldly troubles, it’s important all families are having the discussions, not only visible minorities.

“I think the history is something that everybody does need to be exposed to, because it tells of what us, not just Black people, but us as a world are coming from,” Myers said.

“And as hard as things are now, there is hope.”

Tanya Campbell moved to Canada from Jamaica when she was in her teens. She says her children have always been exposed to the realities of racism, and that educating them is important.

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“They’ve watched TV, they know whats going on,” Campbell said. “They’ve seen movies and all of that.

“So when they ask questions, like why is this, why is that, I just try to give them some history.”

Myers says the notion that kids cannot see colour is misleading.

“Unless you’re colour blind, everybody sees colour and babies literally as soon as they come out are able to make distinctions between different things, colours being one of them,” Myers said.

Myers says parents need to understand the way they talk about race will shape how their kids understand it.

“When you’re on the playground or in the grocery store and your kid is standing in front of someone who is different than them, whether you’re white or you’re Black, and your kid goes, ‘Mum, why does the lady in front of us look like that?’ And you go ‘shhhh,’ that is immediately teaching them that this is something inappropriate to talk about,” Myers said.

“As well as you’re already inputting values into them about how do we relate to people that are different from us.”

Instead of assuming what your child is referring to, Myers says to ask why they’re asking that specific question. It could be your child was noticing someone wearing a jacket on a warm summer day, while others do not have a jacket on.

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Myers says to let your child lead the conversation, noting curiosity is natural in a child’s development.

“The way that we respond, and the information that you give to children, is largely a part of the way they become anti-racist or racist in terms of our response,” Myers said.

For young children, the conversation about race can be had by exposing them to diverse materials and toys.

“Are all the books that you read and have access to only of blond hair, blue eyed type of thing?”, Myers asks. “Or are they seeing stories about other kids that look different but have similar experiences to them?”

As for what to do if your kids ask questions to which you don’t know the answers, Myers says to use that time to learn together.

“Your kids may ask you a question where you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t know nearly enough about the history of slavery for example, or the history of oppression of people of colour to accurately answer this question at the moment,'” Myers said.

“It would be okay to say to your kid, ‘Hmm you know what? That’s a great question, let’s figure it out together’.”

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Click to play video: 'Talking to kids about racism'
Talking to kids about racism

Myers says researching and educating yourself alongside your children will also help model positive behaviour.

For families who are navigating the impacts of racism, Myers says you shouldn’t minimize your childrens’ feelings.

“It’s important to create a safe space for them to have conversations about the sadness, the fear, the rage that they feel and to validate these,” Myers said.

Campbell says although her children have always been aware of their race, they experienced racism later in their adolescent years.

“I’d tell them that they’re beautiful, that they’re perfect in every way, but reality is you may encounter stuff like this,” Campbell said.

“And it is not their fault, it is nothing they did wrong and hopefully talk to me and we can process it and try to get through.”


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