Talking with Kids about Race

Earlier this week, a colleague of mine posted a link to an article called Teaching Tolerance: How White Parents should Talk to their Young Kids about Race. The author, Melinda Wenner Moyer, reports on her own investigation of this important topic, which she began after she and her family moved from a diverse city neighborhood to a much less diverse suburban neighborhood.

I liked this article for many reasons. Obviously, this is an important and timely topic. As parents, I think we have a responsibility to raise children who understand and embrace diversity. Personally, I want my daughter to understand what race is and what it means, and I certainly don’t want race to become a taboo topic in our household.

I also liked this article because it speaks to a general principle about families and parenting that I think is important: honest communication. As we guide our children through the early years of their lives, and work to form the foundation of the people they will become, we have a duty to respond to their questions and mold their understanding of the world in a responsive, sensitive, and developmentally-appropriate way. Race is one item on a list of topics that parents often think of as “difficult” to talk about with their kids — and too often, this means that they don’t talk about them, or keep the conversations as brief and infrequent as possible. But as Moyer points out, this doesn’t send the message to our kids that those topics aren’t important; instead, it sends the message that those topics are both important and taboo. Only be really engaging with our kids and offering truthful explanations that they can understand can we truly help them to grow into the thoughtful, open-minded, and conscientious people we want them to be. This is true for conversations about race, sex and sexuality, bullying, mental illness… the list goes on.

Finally, being willing to have these conversations with our children, making them frank and developmentally appropriate and not loaded with negative emotion, is part of how we create a close and trusting relationship. This kind of closeness and trust, built during the very early years, is essential for ensuring that our “tweens” and teenagers will feel able to come to us with the big stuff later on — when they’re being pressured to try drugs, to have sex, to do something they know and feel is not the right choice. And isn’t that the mark of successful parenting — to have created a relationship in which our children know they can come to us with anything for guidance and gentle acceptance, safe and free from judgment? I know that’s the kind of parent I hope to be.

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