May 13, 2021
Dr. Jazlynn Paige is a school psychologist who has her own consulting firm Paige Psychological Consulting, which was founded in 2019. Dr. Paige shared tips for engaging children in difficult conversations about race, racism, and anti-racism with our community during a live parent education session. The thoughts she shared during that session are summarized below for families unable to attend.
Focus On Your Family
Every family is different and everyone has their own perspective with regard to how they view talking about race, racism, and anti-racism. Everyone is coming from a different background. For some families, these are very uncomfortable conversations, and for others they are much easier. But talking about it is important because no matter what age, children are experiencing ideas around race regardless of whether they are being discussed at home or not.
How Young Is Too Young?
“How early is too early to talk about race?” is a common question. The answer is that each family is different, but the fact is that children know about difference from the moment they interact with another person. As soon as they’re around other children that look differently than them, act differently than them, talk differently than them, have different religions than them, etc., they experience difference. Regardless of if a parent chooses to have these conversations or not, their children will still experience and recognize difference. If families don’t have conversations about race with their children at a young age, the children assume that there’s something bad or scary about the topic, and worry that it is being avoided on purpose. It’s very important to start having age-appropriate conversations early, because if children don’t have them with a parent, they will have them with someone else.
Where To Start
It’s important to start with terms. What does diversity mean? What does race mean? What does discrimination mean? Those are the foundational words for these types of conversations, and teaching children what those words mean is a great start. Conversations are different based on a student’s level of exposure. For students who have had a racial experience, perhaps they have witnessed discrimination, for example, parents may not have to hold back on language because it is something that the child can already conceptualize. Contrast that with a child who has not experienced as much, and a parent may need to focus more on just introducing the conversation.
Keeping It Brief
Parents tend to want to over-answer children’s questions. Children, especially small children, often ask questions that are very direct and discrete and they want (and need) a direct and discrete answer. It’s important to have broad conversations, but to also recognize that when they’re asking a question, launching into a 30-minute history lesson about how all of this started is not always necessary. Children may just want an answer to their question. The really philosophical, great, deep conversations can come as they get a little bit older. It’s also more than okay as a parent to acknowledge that you’re still learning, too.
Teaching children how to advocate in a situation where someone is being disrespected not only helps them understand their role in reducing racism, but also helps them feel more comfortable intervening in bullying situations. Teaching children to be upstanders, instead of bystanders, helps with self-advocacy and articulating values. Role playing these situations with children can help put them in a situation where they can see how they would respond. It helps them start to recognize what is right and what is wrong. Many times, children don’t speak up because they don’t always recognize the correct thing to do. It is critical not to assume that children know right from wrong in every circumstance.
When role playing, it is important to have the parent show the negative behavior rather than having the child do that. The child should work on displaying positive behaviors and recognizing how they can respond as the upstander, as opposed to displaying the negative behavior.
Resources For Families
- Helping Children Cope with Frightening News: Child Mind Institute
- Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event: Child Mind Institute
- Explaining the News to Our Kids: Common Sense Media
- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers;National Association of School Psychologists
- How to Help Children and Youth Process the Capitol Insurrection: Spark and Stitch Institute
- Teaching Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the Rampage at the Capitol: The New York Times and a variety of educational organizations
- Leading Conversations After Crisis: Teaching Tolerance