How to talk to your child about discrimination?
After the horrific the incidence of how a black person was tortured in an inhumane way by white police officer that shows racism which led to the death of George Floyd, people all over the world are in utter shock and are standing up against it. This brings me to shed some light on how racism, discrimination have always been a part of our society and it’s extremely important to talk about it from the start so to put an end for the thoughts to become deep-rooted.
Discrimination is to behave unfairly towards people and groups based on their age, gender, race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or income level. This behavior isn’t just restricted to adults but even children can be a victim of it or be on the other side as a perpetrator. Now, why does this happen? We as humans, have an ability to categorize things to be able to retrieve information easily and quickly. Children do the same thing by noticing how other people are behaving, treating different groups and people and have categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ stored.
According to various studies, discrimination can lead to exclusion from friends or adults in school, colony and other places; feelings of sadness and fear of being bullied verbally or physically; anger; refusal to attend public places such as school; lack of concentration in studies and other activities; reduced self-esteem and confidence which can become a problem in the mental and physical development of the child.
Unfortunately as parents or family members, talking about discrimination can be very difficult but it is important to discuss it with your kids in a developmentally appropriate manner. The more we happen to avoid talking about something, the bigger a deal it seems to be, and misunderstandings about the same keep growing.
Some ways to prepare your child to challenge these issues when they arise:
- Make a safe space. To have a space where the child and the parents feel safe to express how they’re feeling, to share emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and having someone to validate those emotions by being there. Sometimes, it can be difficult to open up about experiences instantly so respect the space by letting them know that you will be available when they are ready to talk.
- Be honest. Let your kids know that this isn’t an easy topic to talk about but it is necessary to have this discussion. Make them aware of the cultural and other differences, about how there are certain stereotypical behavior for some groups and people. Let them know how you feel about it and lastly encourage them to have an open mind.
- Talk to them on their level. Most of the parents worry is what if we are not able to give an answer to their question. Now, it might get hard at those instances but you can help them understand by making it very simplistic using stories and experiences which the child can connect to at their developmental age. Only mention the amount you think they can handle and as they grow up, you can make it more complex.
- Broaden their mind and acknowledge differences. Rather than telling your kids that we are all same, acknowledge and appreciate individual differences and throw some light on the positive aspects of it. Emphasize on diversity and help them with choosing diverse group circles, games, books, movies and take the opportunity to let them know different things that we can learn from each other.
- Lead by example and challenge your own thoughts. We all know that the children learn best by observation so how we talk, our words, and our actions need to be in check with what we want our child to learn. There are times when we happen to make some jokes or say something inappropriate related to other groups and people that’s when we need to take a step back and challenge our own thoughts. And of course, actions speak louder than words so model it by being a part of diverse groups, by embracing differences and treating other with respect.
- Suggest coping skills and strategies. Instill pride in your kid in terms of your identity and culture. Share the knowledge with them. Teach them to be assertive and stand for their right. Discrimination can also lead to reduced confidence in self, so shed some light on their strengths. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to go through the entire incident with them or have a role play so that it gets easier for them to understand how they could have reacted in a situation like that and also helps them to understand who they can go for support depending on where the incident took place.
Talking about such sensitive topics can be very difficult and daunting but at the same time very essential. It doesn’t just have to be about the income level, race, gender, religion but simply the likes and dislikes of one culture to another. The reason why, parents should discuss individual differences, how to appreciate, and learn from each other. This also enhances helping behavior, empathy, courage and leadership skills in the child. To know that you can stand up for what is right, it’s essential to begin from the start.