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Lately, it feels like the world is falling apart around us. Coronavirus, toilet paper shortages, lack of PPE for hospital workers, police brutality, and protests in the streets have created a panic inside me as I have never felt before. But the panic is not just mine. My boys, 5 and 6, are struggling to understand what is happening as well. I am having a hard time finding a way to talk to them about Black Lives Matter and what is happening right now in the world.
I know we need to talk, but I also feel I need the best words I can find to explain why cities are burning and people are dying. It took me some time but I believe I have come up with how to talk to my kids about racism and exactly what is happening outside of our home. After talking to my kiddos, I put together a list of ways that can help you talk to your children about the Black Lives Matter movement and protest. These tips will help you lead the conversation in your home.
Scroll to the bottom for a list of books to help with the conversation.
How To Talk To Your Kids About Black Lives Matter
1. Have the Talk
My sons are Black so we spend a lot of time in my house talking about what it means to be a Black boy. But if race is a new topic for you, the conversation may not come as natural to you. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. The most important thing is to say something.
You may not realize it, but our kids know a lot more than we often give them credit for. They know something is going on that is affecting us all in an abnormal way. Whether it’s from overhearing reports from the news or parents talking on the phone with friends. Our kiddos are listening and they are not getting the proper context. We have to set time aside to sit down and have real talk with our children.
How to start the conversation
Try starting the conversation in a casual setting. Maybe while you’re sitting down playing a game or building legos. Ask your kiddos what they have heard so far about Black Lives Matter and the protest in the streets?
Then listen to what they have to say. Our kids want to feel heard just as much as we do. Try not to interrupt or ask too many questions. Just let them talk about what they have seen and heard. Then slowly count to seven before speaking. Seven seconds is about the amount of time people pause before speaking again. If you get to seven and your child has not added to the conversation THEN speak. Try to create as much room as possible for your kiddo to express their feelings and ask questions.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Say the Wrong Thing
You do not have to have every perfect word for a hard conversation. This of course is one of the reasons why it is so hard because we don’t have the perfect words. It’s more important to have the right tone when you speak to your children. Do you sound scared? Mad? Unsure? Your kiddos are going to pick up on how you are saying something just as much as what you are saying. Kids are not going to remember the exact words you use in your conversation. It’s ok if you accidentally “say the wrong thing”. Just stop and say no, that is not what I meant. What I wanted to say was_________ and correct your mistake. It is not our job as parents to be infallible. It is our job to love unconditionally. Admit your mistakes so your children can also learn to admit when they are wrong and unsure.
So just say talk and tell your kids “Hey, I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to help you understand what is going on in the world around us right now.” That statement will do more for your credibility as a truth-teller than any perfect vocabulary you might say.
3. Give Them Examples They Will Understand
Every year for work, my husband takes students to study abroad in South Africa. A couple of years ago we decided to take the boys on the month-long trip and make it a family vacation. We had an absolutely amazing time and are planning to take the kids as much as we can in the future.
South Africa is a beautiful country. It is definitely one for the bucket list if you have not been. Despite the beauty of the country and people, we had to prepare our boys for the disparities they would witness throughout our trip.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town has an almost 30% unemployment rate among Black South Africans. Men, women, and children can be found begging for change and looking for work on every street corner and stoplight in the city. The poverty is obvious and pervasive and we often had to talk to the boys about why we were seeing children standing barefoot and jacketless in the cold rain in the middle of the streets. One way we explained why there were so many Black children begging for money was by using our White neighbors and water fountains as examples.
My husband and I explained to the boys that 60 years ago when our Nana was a little girl, our family would not have been able to live next door to the boy’s very best buddy and neighbor, Alex, because we are Black and Alex is White. We told the boys that if things were the way they used to be because we all have black skin, we would not have been able to go to school with Alex or even go have lunch and play at Chick Fil’ A with him.
When Nana was a little girl, Black people and White people were not allowed to be friends or go to the same schools, restaurants, or play together. It was against the law and the police would put people in jail if they did not follow the law. We talked to the boys about how South Africa is still very segregated today and because of it, many Black people cannot find jobs. Using situations our kids experience every day gave them a better context to understand the injustices they were witnessing.
4. Use Language They Already Know
If you have young children as I do, you probably hear “that’s not fair” quite a bit. Having two kiddos can lead to lots of jealousy and fighting. In our home, there are toys, food, and even toothbrushing time to argue about. Which is how my husband and I chose to approach explaining racism and segregation in our home.
The actions of the police today is not fair. Unequal pay, healthcare, and housing practices are not fair. When things are not fair we have to speak up, just like we do at home.
My children are Black boys so we have to spend a lot of time talking about race and what is, and is not, safe behavior for Black boys outside of our home. As a mom, I know I cannot prepare them for every scenario they will have to face. As a Black mom, I know I cannot properly prepare them for the inequities they will experience in the future. But that does not mean we stop talking. In fact, it means the opposite. I talk more and I talk openly about possible situations they may have to face when they are not in our home. The possibility of being put in handcuffs or having a gun pointed at them by police, being followed in a store, or having people fear and hate them because of the color of their skin. We talk about it all. Because we have to.
5. Keep Talking
Above all keep the conversation going. As parents, it’s important we repeat ourselves again and again. Children rarely understand a concept after just one time hearing something. (Think about how many times you have to say put on your shoes.)
So keep talking. Keep repeating. And be open to questions, even the hard ones. And when they ask you something you don’t know. Say “I don’t know. But I will try to find out.” Coming back later with an answer (or no answer) leaves the door open for further conversations with our kiddos.
Another great way to keep the conversation ongoing is to read books on the subject of racism or Black lives. Read together. Take time in the story to stop and discuss what you are reading. Give your kids space to ask questions.
And finally…love on them. Hug and kiss your babies as much as possible. The world feels scary right now. We need to remind our little ones they are always safe with us.
Struggling with the new routine and quarantine? Read more on how to get out of bed when you just can’t with life.
Here are a few suggestions for books on racism and Black lives to read with your kids.
White Water by Micheal S. Bandy and Eric Stein
Granddaddy’s Turn by Micheal S. Bandy and Eric Stein
Sit In : How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
We March by Shane Evans
The Might Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Knock Knock : my dad’s dream for me by Daniel Beaty
I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes
One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D Taylor
Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Peña
I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street) by Bobbi Kates