Children sometimes ask adults or their parents surprising questions. They are always trying to understand the world around them, and you may find yourself having to have conversations about skin color and ethnic and cultural differences.
It is the role of every adult to educate children and help them develop empathy, compassion and a sense of justice at a young age about racism. Here are 6 tips to help you have these conversations.
1. Find reliable resources to better understand and explain racism.
Before having a conversation with your child about racism, you need to know a little bit about what to talk about. Understanding the day-to-day realities of Black, First Nations, Inuit and Métis (FNIM) people can make this conversation with your child easier. Understanding that racism goes beyond what we see in the media is important. It is a structural problem that can be observed in all spheres of society: arts, politics, education, employment, housing, etc. Here is an informative video on systemic racism that explains this concept (video in French only).
2. Consider your child's age.
The child's age determines its level of understanding of racism. At a very young age, children become aware of differences in skin color. Adolescents are able to understand more in-depth concepts such as discrimination, while younger children will understand some of the more general concepts about racism. Adapting language is key. An article from Unicef offers good advice on how to approach the subject according to the different ages of children.
3. Be alert to events related to racism, and respond accordingly.
Events covered by the media inspire questions from children. These questions are opportunities for you to start a conversation about racism. If your child has questions, it is important not to hide information from them. This could hinder their ability to think. Children's emotions can be affected by events in the media. Remember to take time to discuss their emotions during these conversations.
4. Listen to what your child says in everyday life about color. It's normal for children to notice and talk to you about differences in skin color, language or appearance. However, sometimes children may make comments without realizing the negative impact they can have on a person. It is important to distinguish comments that are judgmental and those that are not. If the child seems to be judgmental, ask an open-ended question to understand why your child is talking like this. Educate your child about the meaning and importance of words. It is by talking together that you can eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes.
5. Provide a living environment rich in diversity and value the contributions of Black people and FNIM.
It is important to expose a child to people with different cultural identities and skin colors. Expanding the child's social network allows them to be more open-minded about differences. Children also have a rewarding life filled with different perspectives, culinary discoveries, stories and points of view. Cooking food from another culture at home, reading books, visiting museums, listening to films with filmmakers from other countries and participating in cultural events in your area are just a few examples of enriching experiences for a child.
In history, science, education, sports and entertainment, there are many people of color who have had, and continue to have, major positive impacts around the world. Talk to your children about these remarkable people. It is by frequently exposing children to diversity that the idea of inclusion can be conveyed.
6. Accept that you may not have the answers to all the questions.
As a parent or as an adult who interacts with a child, you are always learning new things. Discussions about racism can also vary from family to family. The important thing is to take the time to talk about it, even though it may seem difficult at times.
Valoris is an inclusive agency that is committed to fully respecting cultural and gender diversity. We serve individuals, regardless of their cultural origin, religious affiliation, sex or sexual orientation.
Other resources :
- César Ndéma-Moussa, Regional Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness at Valoris comments on a report about the mental health of Black people.
- How do we talk to our children about racism? Lilian Thuram's advice (in French only).
- National Museum of African American History and Culture – Talking about Race.
- Biographies of remarkable individuals who have helped to shape Black history in Canada.
- Biographies of 30 Indigenous people who have helped shape the history of the FNIM in Canada.