The fight for social equity is all around us. As parents, we can’t ignore it. Our kids are aware that something is up. Some are more aware of what that is than others. If you have been reluctant to talk to your kids about it, here are some tips that can help you broach the subject.
Ask them what they know.
Whenever we are talking to our kids about a sensitive subject, it is always best to start where they are. Asking them what they know will help you stay away from lecturing them which turns them off and will show you where there may be gaps in knowledge or misconceptions. Then you can fill the gaps and redirect the misconceptions.
Don’t try to manipulate your feelings.
We all have feelings about what is happening. If you are a BIPOC parent (i.e. you identify as Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color), your feelings are likely backed by personal trauma. If you are a Caucasian parent, your feelings may be backed by personal trauma or you may not have any personal experience and are working from a place of not knowing how to feel. There is no need to create feelings you don’t have. Likewise, if you are feeling emotions that come from trauma, you don’t have to pretend that everything is fine. If you are feeling angry, it’s okay to let your kids know that (and provide some explanation of WHY). If you are feeling scared, let them know. If you are feeling sad or demoralized, own it and share it. By being emotionally honest ourselves, we free our kids from feeling like they have to push down feelings they have or demonstrate feelings they aren’t experiencing.
Be curious and provide context.
Our social studies/ history curriculum has morphed over the decades into actively avoiding the context that helps us understand what is happening to us and around us, to our friends and neighbors. Your child likely has not been taught any of the history of what led to the vibrant and conflict-ridden discussion we are having about how we move forward into a more equitable system.
Depending on how old you are, you may not have learned important parts of that history. For example, in spite of actively learning about the experience of African Americans for the past several decades, I did not know until very recently that in some places African Americans were required to perform ridiculous and magical feats just to get to cast their Constitutionally-
protected vote, such as making them correctly guess how many jelly beans were in a jar. I am not joking. That really happened.
It is up to us to seek out the information that fills our own gaps.
This is a journey we can take with our kids, especially if they are over the age of 8. By watching documentaries (there are so many playing on TV right now) or reading books or articles together, we can both fill our gaps of understanding and start meaningful conversations with our kids about how what we learn influences how we are thinking about the present events.
For kids under the age of 8, you can find history books (suggestions below) written for this age group. Read them ahead of time and look up the context of the parts that you need more information about to be able to explain. Allow your kids to ask you questions. If they ask you something to which you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know, go find out and share what you learned.
This is a journey for all of us. It is hard. It is scary. It is different for each of us. The worst thing we can do is try to pretend it isn’t happening. In many ways, we have done that for far too long as it is.
Suggested books for young children:
Teammates – by Peter Golenbock (author) and Paul Bacon (illustrator)
On the Backs of the Enslaved – by CherylAnne Amendola and Allison O’Donnell