How white families can talk to kids about racism

Right in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, our country is facing a tragic look at racism and injustice. It's eye-opening - but there's also an impact you don't see. 

Protesters fill the streets in cities across the world, loudly demanding justice and social reform. But in many cases for Black children, the battle against racism is lonely and quiet. It hurts mentally and physically. 

"A larger percentage of children who are African American, they are exposed to a higher percentage of daily stressors, a higher percentage of trauma in their living environments, in places like schools, in the workplace. And even with the current issue we're having in terms with police, there's a great deal of pressure and stress that people experience on a day-to-day basis and there's only so much adaption that can take place," says Dr. Kevin Sloan, a Beaumont psychologist. 

He explains being forced to constantly manage anger or anxiety forces you to go looking for comfort to cope. 

"There's a level of trauma that develops and as a result, there are coping behaviors that are engaged in order to deal with that. Eating is one of those things. It's really hard to engage in adaptive behaviors such as exercise and things if that nature if you're kind of mentally traumatized, emotionally traumatized. I think over time, it becomes a pattern of, really, poor self-care behaviors. The primary objective is not to thrive but to survive, that's the function of that trauma that people experience."

Certainly, productive conversations can help. So how do we begin to talk to kids in particular about painful events we're witnessing as a country?  

First, you ask them, 'What do you know? What do you understand?'

"I think it's important to start off where that child is. It depends on their age, to find out what are their thoughts, what are their feelings. And it's important that you listen and you be receptive to where they are at. At some point it's important to share what your values and what your beliefs are about that particular area. I also think that it's an ongoing discussion, I don't think it's a one-time discussion."

As children and adults face uncertainty, advice from the doctor - you might want to look for long-term coping methods that will be good for your mind and body. 

"The best, the most important thing for you to do is acknowledge I'm sad; I'm anxious; I'm angry; I have these feelings. Once you've done that you can start to think about okay, what are some of my options, what are some of my choices, what are my resources that I do have available to me to be able to cope. I think it's also important that we think about the issue of resilience as well as being able to manage this long-term because none of these issues that we're dealing with today are going to go away overnight." 

A UNICEF writer gives this frank advice for how white families can talk to kids about racism: 

  • Talk about fairness. Even preschoolers can understand that concept. Be clear and explain racism is a system of unfairness, in which Black people are treated worse than white people. We all need to work hard to fix it. 
  • Encourage children to ask questions. Don't encourage kids to be "color blind" as that might discourage them to ask questions. 
  • Celebrate differences. You can say hair, skin and eye color depend on how much and what type of melanin a person has. Some people have more melanin in their skin than others. 
  • Teach kids how to be an ally. If they see a Black classmate being treated unfairly, for example, they should say that's not okay. If they hear someone make a racist joke or comment, they should learn to speak up and say that's wrong.