Jan 29, 2017 12:00AM
By Laura Lyles Reagan
February is Black History Month, a time when we pay particular attention to issues of diversity and racial and cultural differences. These seem like weighty topics to tackle with kids, yet, thanks to social media and the evening news, children are daily exposed to stories about culture and race. So what is the best way to help children sort through these issues? Behaviorists tell us that the first rule of thumb is to model the behavior you want.
Demonstrate positive race relations in practical ways in your own life. Do you have friends of other races? If most of your friends are from your own race and culture, you may want to consider opportunities for you and your child to interact with others from diverse backgrounds. One idea is to attend a different place of worship for a day. Observe the service, find something to appreciate about it, and comment on it to your child. If you see a television program about a different culture, use the opportunity to discuss different ways of life and world views. Find one thing you like about the culture you are discussing, and state it out loud.
Apart from modeling positive behaviors, it’s also important to answer in age-appropriate terms the questions kids are bound to have. Psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, MD, says to expect questions about race and culture particularly around ages 6–8 years old and the teenage years; both are periods when a child’s world is expanding and values are forming or solidifying. Using simple, honest terms to respond to kids is important. Even a response of “I don’t know” or “let’s read about that” can show you are open to learning about different cultures, customs, and communities.
When race and culture issues arise in day-to-day life, turn them into “teachable moments.” For instance, if your child’s response to a classmate’s Asian mom and an African-American dad is “Isn’t that weird?” you may choose to say “Not weird, just different.” When your teen asks what you think about his school renaming the sports teams because Native Americans find “Redskins” to be offensive, you can use it as an opportunity to discuss the impact of racial slurs and different perspectives.
If you need help with talking about these issues with your kids, there are many resources, including the following:
Laura Lyles Reagan, MS, is a clinical sociologist and parenting journalist. She is the author of How to Raise Respectful Parents (Moonshine Cove Publishing, 2016). She can be reached through her website, lauralreagan.com.