Our news is once again filled with content that not surprisingly can leave our children feeling scared, angry, panicked, anxious, unsafe, hopeless, and confused. Not to mention the adults in their life who may also be struggling to deal with the nature of the recent events and protests associated with the death of African- Americans. I am sure that you want to be able to help your children to process, manage, and develop a better understanding of what they are seeing and hearing. I realise that it can be difficult when we are so overwhelmed ourselves, and/or may not know what to do or say in fear of causing your child greater distress.

There is no perfect way or structured guidelines of how to talk to your child, but there are more helpful ways that can assist your child navigate this issue. I hope that by reading below you feel more confident in how to have conversations with your child about what is currently happening in the news and about racism.

Meet your child where they are at and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings

It is important to check with your child how they are feeling and validate their experience. Although you may think they are feeling a certain way, it is always helpful to engage with a sense of curiosity. Provide a space to allow your child to ask questions which will guide where your conversation needs to go. You may also find questions such as these helpful:

  • “What have you heard/seen?”
  • “Would you like to talk about anything?”
  • “What feelings did you notice when you were watching the news?”
  • “I notice your faced looked like ______ / your body did ________.”
  • “What happened in your body?”
  • “What are some thoughts you had?”
  • “What are others saying about this?”
  • “Do you feel safe?”

Some children may have difficulty or are unable to express what they are feeling, particularly the littlies. It can often be helpful to use playful mediums with your child to help them to understand and express their feelings in a non-direct and non-verbal way. Some examples are:

  • Toys
  • Drawing and painting with different colours
  • Feelings cards
  • Musical instruments

Talk about the issue directly and don’t be afraid to nurture your child’s curiosity

Your child will naturally be curious about why this is all happening, and it is important to discuss why there are protests around the world, both peaceful and hostile. Questions such as these below help children to make sense of what is happening, let them know they are safe, and put themselves in other’s shoes:

  • “What are your thoughts about why this is happening?”
  • “What feelings do you think these people are experiencing?”
  • “Why do you think they are feeling that way?”
  • “When you think that something is unfair what do you do/how do you feel?”
  • “What do you think the police’s job is?”
  • “Do you think all police think and behave this way?”

Research tells us that young children are aware of differences in skin colour. It is therefore important to have open, honest, and calm conversations with your child about racial diversity. It will help to lessen your child from developing inaccurate assumptions and damaging messages about race that they may hear from elsewhere. Ways to do so include:

  • Talk to your children about their skin colour, cultural and family heritage, and share delight in how special and amazing it is.
  • Buy books and toys that represent racial diversity (e.g., babies and children with different skin colours) and look for teachable moments.
  • Be aware of your child’s friendships and encourage a racially diverse network of friends.
  • Lead by example and be mindful of how diverse your social networks are, and how you relate to people of colour.
  • Encourage your child and their friends to talk and explore (and celebrate!) each other’s upbringings to notice commonalities among differences (“We have differences but also are the same.”)
  • Discuss and model to your child how you can respond to feelings of anger associated with racism, rather than reacting with aggression and violence.

We tend to dance around confronting issues with children, but it is important to be direct and honest while knowing that you do not have to share every detail. Children are going to see and hear what is going on via the internet, news, and their peers, and they can struggle to read between the lines.  As their trusted adults, we need to help them to make sense of what they are hearing and address misinformation, which in turn can lessen their anxiety and distress. Unfortunately, there is no easy and concise way to talk about the complexities of racism and how it is a social and systemic issue. Being mindful of your child’s age, emotional maturity, and intellectual level, the following may be helpful:

  • “I’m upset about this too, let’s talk about it.”
  • “People are angry about how some white people treat black people unfairly.”
  • “African-Americans are being unjustly arrested and killed.”
  • “Australian’s are angry and frustrated about the unfair behaviour towards Aboriginals.”
  • “It doesn’t mean you are bad or less important if you have black skin.”
  • “They are angry because they care, but it is wrong to be violent.”
  • “People go to protests to share their thoughts and feelings about the situation and to be heard.”
  • “It is unfair, and many people are wanting change and fairness. We can be a part of it too.”
  • “Police are more often helpful, and they are there to protect you.”

Below are some videos that can support your conversation:

Continue talking about racism and provide your child with a safe space to talk about their thoughts and feelings, as well as giving them hope that they can contribute to working against racism.

Invite questions and show your emotions

Children will ask lots of questions and it is ok to not know all the answers. It is important to express your emotions to normalise your child’s experience and use these emotions to work towards making things better. You can say:

  • “I don’t know the answer and I am curious too, how can we learn more together?”
  • “It feels uncomfortable to talk about this.”
  • “I too feel sad and angry about all of this.”
  • “It is important that we learn more about ways in which we can help”

It is modelling to your child that it is ok to not know everything, how to solve problems, your family values (such as fairness, justice, and empathy), normalising unpleasant emotions, and it keeps the conversation going.

It can be upsetting and uncomfortable to know your child is aware of what is currently happening in the world. However, by tolerating these emotions we can use these events to educate our children about the issue and what can be done to fight for fairness. This includes being aware of their own actions within their school and community, and in the wider world. It helps them to develop empathy, compassion, perspective-taking, conflict resolution skills, and contribute in ways to make the world a better place. 

Remember to take care of yourself first and reach out to your support system. It has been a tough year and we are here at Prosper Health Collective to offer support if you or your family need it.  

Krystle Pavalache