Ep. 17 – How to Talk About Racism With Your Children

This is a special episode of the podcast. It's released earlier in the week because I think this topic is too important to wait on. I recorded this one week after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, and the past week was full of protests around the US.

In the episode, I share my thoughts about why we have to initiate a conversation about racism with our children, and how should we do it. We can't just shy away from this topic, thinking “it's not happening to me”, because racism and inequality are too poisonous, all around the world.

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Exactly one week from the date of this recording, it was on Monday, May 25th, 2020 George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, by a police officer who came to arrest him and pressed on his neck. So hard until he died, which instigated a flood of protests around the United States. Yesterday, I heard the protests started even in London. And to tell you the truth, I didn't plan to make a podcast episode about it. I usually don't tend to speak about current events, not because I don't have something to say, but usually because, well, I feel less articulated when I'm talking about these issues. I usually don't go deep into reading about what's going on, especially since COVID-19 hit, I disabled all the news notification on my phone because I didn't want to read about it. And so I really didn't even know a lot about what was going on in the United States up until yesterday or the day before also because I don't live in the States.

So it's not in my usual news cycle, but this of course is a lot bigger than the States itself. So as I said, I usually don't talk about this stuff because I feel less articulated when I talk about this issue. And I also realize that I tend to shy away from these conversations out of fear. And this is a fear that I may say something wrong, even just the victim comfortable sense of these are tough issues to talk about racism and, you know, white privilege. I am a white Jewish male in a Jewish country. I think that you can safely say that I am on the top of the privilege scale, at least in my country. And you know, you can go into the sense of I shouldn't speak or what is it for me and who am I to talk about these issues, but a couple of people on the internet, um, wrote about these issues and inspired me.

And I want to give a shout out for one specific person who is Stu McLaren, who is a teacher at the online course that I'm currently taking any went live yesterday a couple of hours ago, actually, to talk with this group of people that were studying together and being really open and vulnerable about it. And he and other people made me realize that it's bigger than just me. It's not just about me. It's not about the fact that I'm white or not. I cannot indulge in that privilege and not speak up. And it's not only about black or white, although this is the focal point at this point. And it should be. But again, I don't live in the States and I can totally see the importance of these issues because I live in a really polarized country. The society where I live is really polarized and it's not black and white here, but it's Jewish and Muslims and other polarized groups.

And especially this is a country where racism and discrimination is really, has really seeped into the ground for many, many years. So I can see the inherit racism in the system and how it affects other people's lives. So everything about it was kind of a light bulb around my head that I got to speak about these issues. And here on the apparently parent podcast, we are talking about parenting and how you as a parent can build an enduring and a special connection with your children, what you can teach your children by your own behavior. So I thought about it. What kind of a message are we giving our kids? If we don't speak about what's going on and we don't speak about the wrongs in society, if we stay silent, because silence can be, and I know that there's a psychologist. Yeah. Silence can be really, really toxic.

So what I want to talk about today is why should we talk with kids about racism? And especially now what's going on with George Floyd and, and his death and the protests around the United States and wherever else they will go to. And how can we approach these conversations with our children? This is not an easy issue to talk about, and I'm not even sure that I have all the answers and even think that I'm going to give up on the intro today because my, my intro music is really upbeat and I, I'm not feeling upbeat about that right now. So I will just continue without that. And I want to speak this conversation to two parts. The first part is why should we talk with our children about racism and what's going on right now, et cetera. And then how, and I hope that I will convince you that you should initiate those talks.

And I can give you some information or tips about how you should do that. So first let's talk about the importance of initiating such conversations. Some people think that if it doesn't happen in your neighborhood, if it doesn't happen in your city, if you're, if you live in the States and you don't have protests protests in your city, maybe you shouldn't, shouldn't talk about it. And I think that's the wrong way to go about it as upset. I don't see any protests about it, where I leave, cause this is a whole different continent, but it's still an important conversation because the fact of the matter, it's not about George Floyd and it's not about every other person who has gone down by police brutality or anything else. It's not about one person. It's about a concept. It's about initiating conversation about racism and about human rights and about general empathy, which for me, empathy, empathy should be the driving driving force in this world.

And we tend to shy away from such a conversations because as I'm feeling right now, it's, it's uncomfortable to talk about these issues. And especially with your kids, you don't want to say something wrong and you, you don't want to talk about uncomfortable stuff. If your children, you don't want to make them anxious or sad or afraid. And what I have to say about that is that you shouldn't be afraid to say something wrong because saying nothing is far worse than saying something, which is not exactly a right in one of the first episodes of this podcast. I think it was episode number two, but I will put a link to it. In the show notes of this episode, I talked about the tension between crying to be a perfect parent and just being a good enough parent. And what I was saying over there is that a lot of us are trying to be quote unquote, perfect parents, but there is no such thing as perfect parenting because this is kind of like chasing a rainbow.

You can never achieve perfect parenting. You will always make mistakes and trying to be perfect is trying to not make mistakes, which is the worst thing that you can do, because if you don't try it, you'll get nowhere. Okay. And if you're always try to be perfect and anticipate everything your child needs and be very completely for him, you're setting yourself up for failure because you just can't, you can be there 100%. You can do everything. Right. Okay. So I'm sure that as an employee, you don't expect yourself to be 100% perfect, right? The same goes for parenting, what your children need are good enough parenting, which means being mindful as a parent, to where you make mistakes and trying to correct those mistakes and own them and acknowledge them. So again, don't be afraid to say something wrong. Yeah, this would be, or this could be an uncomfortable conversation, perhaps, but this is where we grow.

This is, this is where we grow as adults, as parents. And this is where we grow our children around the edges. So don't let this conference prevent you from having this discussion with your children. And it's better to start a conversation and fail than not start a conversation at all. I recently heard this saying that when you try something, there are two options. You can either succeed in it or you learn something new. It's not about failure. And when talking with our children, when having conversation, it's really not about failings, not bank being wrong. Yeah. You can do wrong. You can't hurt a child in a conversation if you approach it in the wrong way, in an empathetic way. And you know, when you don't think about what he or she feeling, things are fields, but this is not the way to go. Okay. So if you come from the right place and in the second part of this episode, we'll talk about the, how I talk about how you should approach this conversation.

So you will minimize the risk of saying something wrong, but again, don't be afraid to say something or you can always always fix after the fact. Now there's another reason why parents tend to shy away from these conversations about racism, whether it's about skin, color, or religion or other factors that can instigate racism. Parents sometimes think that if they don't talk about it, that their children will not notice it or to say it the other way around. They think that if you talk about color, you will make your child notice color. Like there's the sense that my child loves everybody and they don't see skin color as something significant. And you know, that's kind of a bullshit because if we don't talk about color, we can kind of denying the fact that there are differences in the color of people or in the religion of people.

And the fact of the matter is there are differences. We just don't look alike. All you, all of you humans, right? So there are the differences and not talking about the differences only denies the fact of the difference. It's not the difference in the skin color that makes the judgment. It's what we feel and think about it. That makes us judge in that in, in instigates racism and you know, children already know there are different colors. Research has shown that as soon as three months old babies already concentrate more on faces that match the race of their parents or caregivers. So if it's a white baby born to white parents, they will concentrate more on the pictures of white babies, more than black babies. And the other way around this, isn't just how their brain works. And already at two years of age, kids may associate race as an explanation of people's behavior or as a way to choose playmates.

And another really, really interesting research has shown that around five years old kids already hold views about race and status that adults have. So never ever think that children are colorblind because they aren't. And having an honest and explicit conversation with children around the age of five to seven, this is another research. It did help with improving the racial attitudes of these children rather quickly. So you have to have these conversations with your children and, you know, you should structure it around the society you live in. So if you live in the States where racism, especially against black people, but not only that, where it's really an issue, a big issue, still, you have to talk about that. When I come to think about it, where I live, the biggest issue is about is racism against Arab people and Muslims. And I have to, you know, approach death when I'm talking with my children and they don't meet a lot of Muslims and Arab people and they should, and we have to talk about the way the society I live in discriminate against those people.

So you have to have these conversations. There's this song, silence is golden. Well, silence is not golden. It's poisonous in these issues. It's poisonous. So I hope you realize now, when you feel like you should start a conversation about these issues with your kids, and if you live in the United States, you have all these new cycles about protests and everything. And then you probably feel that you have to talk about it, even if you don't want it. So how should you talk about your kids about racism and what's going on right now in the United States and protests and everything. This is really, really complex. And I can give you all the answers. I don't have all the answers, but I can give you some guidelines. And the most important keys for having these kinds of talks is first, you have to be honest, and you have to be open honest with yourself and your children.

You don't have to have all the answers. Like I said, in the beginning of this episode, I don't know everything. I don't feel comfortable talking about these issues. So this is me being honest. And this is also me being open, open for my own emotions and thoughts about these issues. And also open about, you know, if you're having this conversation with your kids, being open about the thoughts and feelings of your children about that. Now, when you're talking about these issues or other, you know, conflicting or this uncomfortable issues with your children, I want to give you a simple formula that you can use whenever you feel stuck. Okay. And this is true. Always, always, when you were having a conversation with your child or your spouse or whomever, okay. Remember this acronym? SLO S L O w S though. So what does it mean?

S stands for slow down. Okay. So you don't have to rush anything if you don't have the answer. If you feel that you don't know what you say, you don't have to rush anything. Okay? You're not treating a dying patient at the moment. You're having a conversation. So no rush, take a breath round yourself, physically, if you need to take the time, if you need to slow down and slow down your thoughts as well, L stands for a lean in, okay. Don't disconnect. When you feel stuck, lean closer, both physically and mentally, you know, you can lean into the conversation physically by getting closer to your child and leaning mentally as well. Try to listen. Okay? Sometimes you don't have to say anything. You just have to listen and O stands for open up. So when you start with conflicting or negative thoughts, just try to open up for whatever is coming up for you.

Thoughts and feelings allow them to be, just be in w stands for warm up. Try to feel compassion, warmness towards yourself, towards your child or your partner or whomever you talk to. So this is the acronym. Slow, slow down, leaning, open up in warmup. And you don't have to remember this right now. Don't write it down. If you're not driving or something, just you have, you can go to apparently parent.com forward slash 17. There you'll find the show notes for this episode. And I will write down, slow for you over there. Now, first things first, you have to approach this kind of conversation when you feel calm and when you have the time to do so. So try to find a time when you are in no rush, and you can look at each other. This is not a conversation to have over the commute to school.

When you're driving a new kids are sitting behind you and you can face each other and you will have to end it abruptly. When you get to the school, this is not a conversation to have over breakfast. When you rush to work, you can do so over breakfast on a Sunday, maybe, or a Saturday, if that's your day off, okay, you can do so in the evening before they go to bed or during the afternoon, but not in a time with you and you have to rush. And the facing each other is kind of important at this for me, because both you and your child should be able to notice each other reactions and facial expressions, et cetera. There is so much, so, so much implicit communication going on. Non-verbally between you and your child in your tone of voice, in your property, in your face expressions, that you, it would be much better.

If you will have this conversation, when you can look at each other, and this is true for every, every conversation that has, you know, an emotional substance to it with your child, with your spouse, wherever. And one last thing before I go to some more specific details, try to always follow your child's lead, ask them be curious, okay? They don't have to have all the answers. Of course, you don't have to have all the answers, but ask them, ask them, what do they feel? What do they think? And allow them to speak their mind as long as they need to, and then respond. And if they don't seem to be able to engage in that conversation right now, you can just acknowledge that and move on. Don't shove it down their throat. If they don't feel ready for that, or, or, you know, they're not in the space to listen and to have a conversation, just know that and tell them that it's really important for you to talk about it, but you can do it later.

And if they have anything they want to tell your, ask you, or, Oh, share with you, their feelings they're allowed to do so whenever they want you and any initiate a conversation in another time, that's fine. You don't have to, you know, put him on the spot. Now, if you have previously listened to the apparently parents podcast, you know that one of the biggest things that are, that is really important for parenting is the concept of validation. And I'm talking about the validation of thoughts and feelings, because this is a loaded subject. It can be a really emotionally loaded subject. So we have to be really open to whatever emotion is coming up, either inside of you or your child. And as I always say, every emotion is allowed don't ever judge or your kids for having an emotion or for not having an emotion.

You know, you may think that this is really important, but you notice that you don't feel anything. That's fine. Don't judge yourself for that validate that maybe there's something blocking your emotion. Okay? So this is something maybe deeper also for your child, especially the younger ones, you know, teenage kids, they have emotions, then they usually show them. But you know, the younger ones, they don't usually know how to name and express their emotions. So don't judge them for not quote unquote, not on not feeling anything because deep down they do feel. And that because emotions are really important guides in our lives. And when we block them out with the private cell phone of an important piece of information, and this is especially true for the so-called negative emotions, such as fear or anger. So don't do that to your kids. Don't tell them that they have nothing to be afraid of, or there is nothing to be angry about.

And even if the emotion they show is uncomfortable for you, it's better. If you let them know that it's okay to feel this or that. And after you give them that acknowledgement that validation, then you can discuss the meaning of having such an emotion. So first and foremost, ask them what they feel and validate that. And if they don't know what they feel, there's this little trick that I sometimes I use, especially with the younger children in my practice or with my own kids. And it's like the menu question. So you can ask them, why do they feel about it? And then they, you, you notice that they don't know what to say. So you can offer a menu of a salt. You can say, you know, sometimes people feel, um, angry or sad or afraid. Maybe you feel one of those things. So you can try that.

Now there's the question of, what should you say? You know, about the current events, about the death of George Floyd and what's going on in the streets with her riots and protests and looting and police brutality in everything. Yeah. So there's this tension between over complicating things and oversimplifying things. So first of all, try to keep things kind of simple. Don't overcomplicate the message. And this is something that you should structure to the intelligence and the age of your child. So I can give you, you know, a rule of thumb, you have to know and feel your child, but you know, the older your child, the more complex conversation that you can have of course, but try not to go into really complex issues of, you know, perspectives and whatnot, and trying to make everything too much to absorb. On the other hand, don't oversimplify as well.

This is not a basic good versus evil story. Like, you know, a Tolkien, the Hobbit story. So this is, this is a little bit more complex than that. Okay. So you, you can't oversimplify it as well. So for example, if your child asks them about what happened, you know, maybe she heard it in school already about it online, or maybe the news were open the TV, the TV was open on the news and she heard something. You have to structure it for a specific age, but give the basic facts, okay, this is true for preschoolers and an older, if, if you, if you have toddlers like two to three years old, you should really avoid watching the news around them. And this is true for other kids as well, but you don't have to really explain everything for kids at that age because they don't really, they can't really grasp the story, the narrative, but for preschoolers by three years old and above, you can have this kind of conversation adapted to the age.

For example, you can say something like there was this policeman and he arrested the man named George and while doing so he acted in such a way that killed that person. And he shouldn't have done that. And for all the kids, you can explain how and George Floyd died. If you want to. And then you can go in and say, you shouldn't have done that. That's really unfair that it happened. And many people are really upset and really angry about that because that policeman was white and George was ham black, and many people think that this wouldn't have happened if that person was white and the right to think. So. And again, with all the kids who can explain it, it, it usually happens for black people a lot more than white people. If at all, I don't have the stats next to me, but I'm sure you can find them if you want to.

And this is why those people are protesting. And again, you can, you can explain that when people protest, when they are really angry, sometimes riots can happen. And then the police comes in and all this anger, you balls up and structure it to your child's ability and understanding, and stay as close to the facts as possible. And then ask your child, what do they think about it? And why do they feel about it? And then shut up and listen. Sometimes they will not know what to say. Then you can offer a, you know, the menu, like I suggested above, you know, you know, you, you, when you heard about what happened between that police officer and that man, what do you feel about that? What do you think about that? And prepare yourself to get shocked, prepare yourself to the option that you child may say, something like that.

Police officer did the right thing because probably that man was really violent and he had it coming. And don't judge your child for having that thought. Because if you judge them, you can judge them internally, if you want to, but don't expect don't judge them explicitly. Because if you do that, you will prevent them for learning anything in you don't attack them for that. And don't attack yourself for them thinking that as well, not as that, and think about what you may have said, or the way you may have acted before, and that may have led them to that kind of thinking. And it's not only you, it's the society of large, but this is a learning point. This is an opportunity to learn something new. So if your child expresses this kind of thinking, you can say something like, well, that's not true because the man wasn't failing, you know, there's the video to show that.

And why should you think he was violent? Because the police officers never get things wrong. Well, that's not true. Or because it was lack. Well, that doesn't mean anything, et cetera, et cetera. Okay. So try to again, be as open and honest as possible in this conversation and acknowledge and admit that it's not easy to talk about these issues. If that's true for you, this is a wonderful modeling opportunity for your child. And for yourself, seeing you engaging in uncomfortable conversation, which are important, is a wonderful modeling opportunity because children, they learn more from how we act than from what we have to say. So this is really important for you to act on this. Now in the show notes, I'm going to put a link to a great article written by dr. Laura Markham. And she really breaks down according to age, how you should talk to your children about what happened, starting from toddlers to preschoolers, to teens.

This is really, this is a goal of information, and I will put the link in the show notes again, it's on apparently parent.com forward slash 17. You should read that before you approach this kind of conversation. Now, if your child doesn't even know that something happened, because maybe there were not exposed to the news or didn't hear about it, or maybe you live in somewhere where nothing really happened. I still believe that you can initiate a conversation about it, especially if your child is, let's say seven years and above, okay. Or maybe eight years and about the numbers are not really, you know, there's no one right formula, but it's kind of my sense mind. This is my why. This is what my gut is telling me. You can, you can tell them because they will probably hear about it sooner or later, you can tell them that something happened.

You can tell them the story of George Floyd, and you can tell him the story of the protest and you can initiate the conversation, even if they didn't hear about it. And this is a really important conversation to have. I hope I have convinced you of that already. So don't wait for them. If they didn't, you know, it's been a week already. I actually, when this episode is published, it's going to be more than a week after that. So, so initiate the conversation. Don't wait for them. If they didn't bring it up already. Now, when, when people talk about these kind of issues, we fed their children, especially if you're white, okay. Let's admit it. Especially if you're white, your, some parents are more prone to have the message of, you know, we don't see any color. Okay? We love everybody. We don't see color, et cetera.

And again, I said it before, but I want to stress it again. Avoid that message. Please avoid the message that I see no color or I seen on religion or whatever. Cause it's kind of bullshit when it comes to skin color, none of us is called blind and trying to quote unquote, see no colors only means you're trying not to see the inherit racism embedded in the system and denying the fact that it exists. So you don't teach that to children acknowledge that there's a little piece of racism inherit everywhere. And it's also maybe inheriting in us because biologically speaking or evolutionary speaking, our brains are adapted to feel safer with those who look more like us. It doesn't mean that we have to be afraid of, you know, if I'm white, I have to be afraid of black people and vice versa. It just the way our brains are wired and we can and should do something about that.

And it starts with acknowledging that fact that we are doing that thing, even if we don't intend to. So saying I see no color is kind of lying to your brain. So never try to lie to a brand like that. Doesn't lead anywhere. Now there's another point that it's not about the issue of why should you talk about it with your kids on how should you talk about it? We few kids, but I did want to stress it out. Try to minimize news exposure as much as possible. I honestly believe that the news, especially in this day and age are kind of toxic and we shouldn't enjoy indulge in listening or watching the news all the time. So if you're an adult and it's important for you to know what's going on, I suggest to do as I do. And you know what news once a day, and you know, you can read online what's going on and that's that we don't have to have CNN open in the background all the time.

And this is especially true for kids because when kids watch all those news reports of people being hurt, you know, watching that video clip of George Floyd or other people being gunned down or beaten by police or whatever, there's a danger of them suffering from what we call secondary trauma. And that means that they don't have to be there to experience this as traumatic. You know, when, when someone gets hurt and you watch that when, when it happens, where it happens, when you're present, you may suffer from trauma, even if it didn't happen to you. And the same thing is true. When you watch it on the news for you, rain, it can hurt the same way. And this is especially true for children because they still lack the capacity to differentiate and, and see things in a broader perspective, et cetera. And so, as, as true as it is for adults, it's more true for your children.

So what around that? So try to minimize exposure to the news, especially for these kinds of news for, for all these viral videos and, you know, watching these videos can also nurture anxiety, both for you and for your children. So I'm not saying that we should not take those videos, you know, because the reporting to, to bring awareness for what's going on, I'm not going against the fact that these videos exist, but you should be really careful with yourself and especially with your children about the exposure to them. So it's not that we have to deny the truth of what's going on, but we can discuss it without all the Gore, without the actual visual reality of things. So I think that's it this for now. And if you kept up listening after this point, I really want to thank you for staying on and listening.

This issue is really important. I think for each and every one of us and I myself, am going to try to be as conscious to these issues as possible, more than before, and to speak about him, both with my kids and with you guys, because I'm here to help you as parents build these enduring and meaningful relationships with your children. And this is part of that. So I hope you enjoyed this episode and yet that you could take something out of it. And if you have any questions that you want to ask, feel free to contact me. You can go to a penalty, parent.com for access 17. You will find all the resources over there that I mentioned, and you can also can contact me via the website or go to apparently parent at Instagram, follow me over there and right at the end for me, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. And if you had such a conversation with your kids and we want to share it with us, just let me know right. For me, I know will be really happy to hear about it and to think together about what we can do as parents. And that's it for now next week, I'll be back with another episode of the parenting plan podcast. I hope it will be more upbeat and I wish you a good week and stay safe and be well, bye, bye.

About The Apparently Parent Podcast

On this show, I share with you my perspectives and experience of parenting and psychology.

Enhance your understanding of the relationship with your child and yourself by learning about attachment, mindful and playful parenting mindset and techniques.

Listen to me sharing my knowledge and experience both as a parent and a therapist, as well as interviews with parenting experts from around the world. 

Eran Katz - Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor

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Eran Katz

First, I’m a father of two kiddos. But I’m also a Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Counselor specializing in Attachment Theory and Experiential, Emotional Focused Psychotherapy. I believe that parenting is one of the most important things we ever do in our lives. This is why I love talking about it and helping parenting just like you and I find their best-parenting-selves.

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