Talking to Your Kids About Race (and other difficult things)

by Jasen Frelot

Talking about race is among the hardest things we are called to do as parents. The very idea of it often brings up bad memories or fears of getting it wrong. But, more than ever, we know that talking to our kids about race is essential to preparing them to exist in an increasingly diverse world. Below are a few tips on how to dive into the conversation. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Step 1- Recognize your own barriers to talking about race

For example:

  • Your own lack of education about the history of racial oppression in America
  • Your own unease around talking about things that make you uncomfortable
  • The desire to “just get the conversation over with” so you can go back to living life the way you did before

Step 2- Present Information

Present information in a clear, matter-of-fact way. Children are often tougher and more mature than we give them credit for, so do not shy away from giving them information that we as adults often find difficult or uncomfortable. Of course you know the child in your care best and can determine what information is appropriate, but don’t be afraid to discuss things that are uncomfortable. Don’t worry about saying it perfectly, just do your best.

Step 3- Allow and give space for emotional response

The truth about race in the United States is incredibly troubling and upsetting (and often does not exactly match what is in standard textbooks). Your child should be upset, concerned, confused, or afraid by the realities of systemic racism. Allow for your child to feel these feelings. Do not try to relieve or take away from the horrors of racism by saying things like “things are better now” or framing racial oppression as something that only occurred in the past. Anger can be a powerful motivator to moving them towards finding solutions.

Step 4- Think about what you and your child can do to help

Often times we are afraid to have difficult conversations with our children because we feel powerless in the face of such large problems. This can lead to us trying to avoid the problem instead of thinking of ways to proactively engage in solutions. Learn together. Take action together. Children need to feel like they are part of a solution, especially after having been presented with difficult information. Sit down with your children and think about some things you can do as a family, classroom, school, church, etc., to fight for racial justice. Your answer will not be perfect; it will not please everyone, but your efforts to make things better will inspire your children and the people around you.

Step 5- Get moving!

Now that you’ve thought of how you’re going to engage in a solution, it’s time to do it. Be prepared and prepare your children for push back from white people and people of color who may not approve of or understand what you are doing. The goal of your action isn’t to receive praise, it is to meaningfully engage in the fight for racial justice. Try to enjoy yourself. It is important to relax and have fun. If the action you are undertaking is causing an excessive amount of bickering and stress, think of a new action. This is a movement that requires everyone to sustainably and joyfully do what we can.

About the Author

Jasen Frelot is a father, husband, community organizer, early childhood educator, and social justice advocate based in Seattle. He is the founder and Executive Director of Kids and Race, a new non-profit organization focused on educating parents on how they impact their children’s racial identity development. Jasen is also the founding director of Columbia City Preschool of Arts and Culture, a preschool founded on the principles of racial equity.

Jasen’s work has been featured on KUOW, King 5, The Seattle Times, Real Change, and Parentmap Magazine. Jasen lives in Seattle with his wife and young children. And check out his first podcast, Talking Race!

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