Preparing for tough conversations with my children.
“Mommy, will you read to me?” It was my son: a 3-year-old, shy, and incredibly smart little boy with big almond brown eyes and a smile that warms my heart. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar! You know that is one of our favorites,” I exclaimed. As he climbed on my lap, I hugged him, smelled the sweet scent of his curly hair, and for a few silent seconds, I wept. “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf,” I began. I could barely see the pages through my tears. Fortunately, I have this story committed to memory.
Moments before my son asked me to read to him, I was browsing the headlines of three more awful, unnecessary, and heart shattering tragedies that have occurred recently in the United States. Then, as if that weren’t traumatizing enough, I made the unfortunate mistake of reading comments filled with ignorance and hate (not smart on my part!). I wept today because I was reminded – again – of how scary, cruel, and just plain evil this world can be. I wept because one day I am going to have to explain these things to my children, and that day is going to come much sooner than I had expected.
In a lot of ways, the Very Hungry Caterpillar represents my son. He was born very tiny and very hungry. He, like most children, is hungry and looking to feast on knowledge, experiences, and connections with other people. Indulging on these delicacies is what will help him develop and grow into a thriving adult with gifts, talents, and ideas to contribute to society that may one day change the world.
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar represents my son.”
There are and will be many aspects of my son’s existence that are beyond my control. At times, that scares me. However, what I CAN control is what I feed him. I’m not talking about the “breast versus bottle” argument. (A fed and healthy child is what is most important at the end of the day anyways, right?) I am talking about intentionally feeding my son a banquet of Kindness, Empathy, and Communication. I am talking about encouraging my children to nibble on problem solving skills and strategies for disagreeing with someone without resorting to violence. I’m talking about teaching them to serve up two scoops of respect for themselves and others with a cherry on top.
At this point, there are a lot of things my son does not yet understand. Things like ignorance, discrimination, racism, bigotry, or hatred. He doesn’t understand that the same people who admire his wild curly hair and charming personality may one day call him a “thug” or be afraid of him – simply because he’s Black and happens to be wearing a hoodie, or carrying skittles, or handing an officer his license and registration, or standing on a sidewalk, or breathing, or some other completely asinine reason. He doesn’t understand that it won’t matter that he comes from a middle class home with two married, educated, and law-abiding parents. Those things won’t save him from being stereotyped and racially profiled by someone who just sees him as another “threatening” Black man walking down the street.
What my son does understand is that in his preschool class, Simon* is his friend because he likes MagnaTiles too. My son understands that Ana* is his friend because she is nice to him and likes to be his line partner. My son understands that Ezekiel* is his friend because he is funny and always knows how to make people laugh. My son understands that Preston* is his friend because he’s great at sharing and likes to play with trains. He doesn’t understand or care that Simon is a white boy with blonde hair and blue eyes, that Ana is biracial, that Ezekiel is Asian, or that Preston is African-American like him. Part of me naïvely wishes I could keep it this way for him forever. A greater part of me wants to teach him to celebrate others’ differences — to use his ‘ignorance’ to racism and bigotry as an opportunity to feed him the tools to be ready to fight it in the future.
Our children are hungry – starving – for our guidance. Sitting silent, as a horrified bystander to current events isn’t enough anymore. Feeding them fear, ignorance, and violence is not a winning strategy in the long run. Our children need the utensils for making change, and we need to also model the use of those skills ourselves. And to be fair, that may look a little different from person to person and family to family:
- For some, it might involve facing the fear of having conversations with their children about race, diversity, and differences in general.
- For others, it might involve being more introspective, assessing their own attitudes and beliefs, and how they affect their views and interactions with others – and then teaching their children how to do the same.
- It might even involve moving beyond polite conversations with friends from different racial/cultural backgrounds and connecting on a deeper level in order to develop knowledge and empathy for people from other groups.
If we want to effect change, we might as well start now. What we put into the cocoon will greatly influence what emerges from it.
Am I longing for a Pleasantville, I-Don’t-See-Color Society where we ignore our differences? Absolutely not. What I am advocating for is an environment where diversity is seen as a mosaic of people whose backgrounds, perspectives, values, and beliefs are seen as assets to a community, rather than reasons to be divided. I am wishing for a reality where our children can be aware of their differences and take opportunities connect and learn from one another. I am praying that our children will not need to live in fear because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
Can anybody relate?
I am no expert, but I do strive to gain as much knowledge and perspective as I can. Here is some “Food for Thought” – articles and videos that I have found thought provoking in my attempts to prepare for difficult conversations with my children. I hope you find them useful, too. Keep checking back, as I will add more as I come across them. Please feel free to share additional resources in the comments.
- Article: Are You Raising Nice Kids? 5 Ways to Raise Them to be Kind
- Videos: Edutopia’s 5 Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empahty, and Connection
- Article: What Danish Parent Know About Teaching Empathy
- Game & Free Printable: The Empathy Game
- Video: Sesame Street presents: Empathy
- Video: Black Boys Describe the Emotional Stress They Go Through Everyday Growing Up in America
- Book/Video: The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss Also check out these great questions here.
Talking to Kids About Race
“Talking about race in America can be scary. People don’t want to be seen as a racist or someone trying to start a conflict. But the less prepared we are to think about race and talk about race, the scarier those conversations are when they occur. And children need tools for how to feel and speak about these issues.”
- Article: Talking to Children After Racial Incidents
- Article: 5 Reasons to Talk to Kids About Race in America
- Article: Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter – What’s the big deal?
- Article: We need to deal with our discomfort and talk to our kids about racism
- Article: How Silence Breeds Prejudice
- Article: Resources for Talking to Kids About Race and Racism
- Article: Making the Brain Less Racist
Thanks for reading!
*Name has been changed.
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