As people across the United States take to the streets to protest systemic racism that has led to vast inequity in our country, families may be trying to help kids understand current events, cope with stress, and feel empowered to make the community a more equitable place to live. Black parents may be experiencing added stress from the pandemic and need ideas for family self-care. Nonblack parents may be wondering how to talk to their children about racism and how to best support black neighbors. We have compiled tips and book lists for kids, adapted from an article by B.B. Cooper Browne of the American Library Association, Teaching Tolerance, School Library Journal, and the New York Times to help.
HELPING KIDS MAKE SENSE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING AND FEEL EMPOWERED
- Use clear language and let kids know racial violence and treating people unfairly based on their race is wrong.
- Encourage questions and answer honestly, even if you don’t have all the answers.
- Be calm, but don’t hide your emotions and let your child express their feelings. They might be angry, afraid, or sad and all of these are ok. If they don’t want to talk, let them have space to process what they are seeing and learning and make sure they know they can talk to you any time.
- Reassure kids you will do what you can to keep them safe.
- Limit family news consumption if it’s becoming too stressful.
- Help kids feel empowered to act by reading about activism.
SELF-CARE FOR BLACK FAMILIES
- Give yourself a break. It’s ok to feel stress, anger, and sadness.
- Build networks of support for yourself and your kids. This is necessary now even more than ever due to social distancing.
- Get a group of friends to commit to each other’s well-being and include an online group communication space.
- Check in weekly on each other’s health and work together to tend to everyone’s needs.
- Be accountability buddies to make sure everyone is exercising, taking medication, eating, and engaging in other daily activities that demotivation impacts during stressful times.
- Stay physically active by taking daily walks or signing up for a virtual class at the YMCA, $15 for nonmembers.
- Seek mental health support if needed. Washtenaw County Community Mental Health has a free emergency line 734-554-3050 you can call 24/7.
- Explore mindfulness and meditation online or through kids’ books.
WAYS FOR NONBLACK FAMILIES TO LEARN AND SUPPORT BLACK NEIGHBORS
Books are mirrors and windows for kids. While it’s important for black kids to see themselves in books, it’s equally important for white families to read books with characters of all colors who are just kids being kids, as well as stories of empowered, successful black people.
Here are a few of our favorites you can choose from.
- Be honest when talking with your kids in an age appropriate way. Even 1 year olds can differentiate faces by race and kids as young as 2 show signs of racial bias. For very young kids, start by explaining what melanin is and that it’s wonderful to have a variety of different people in the world. For older kids, share facts, including this history of violence against black people and how unfairly people of color have been treated throughout American history.
- Talk about racial privilege in your own lives.
- Make sure kids know they can ask questions and you’ll do your best to answer. Share when you are learning too. “I want to learn more about that too! I am going to read a few books, and then let’s talk more about it.”
- Reflect on your own family network. Do you have friends of other races? Who lives in your neighborhood? Why is that? Can we change it?
- Ask questions: “What do you think? Did you see or hear something that made you ask that?
- Feel free to take time before you answer and prepare what you’ll say. “Wow, what an interesting and important question. Let me think and learn a little more before I answer.”
- Revisit missed opportunities. If you said the wrong thing or nothing at all, it’s not too late. “Remember in the store when you said…? I want to talk more about it.”
- Learn more to help you prepare at Teaching Tolerance or read a book from our Anit-Racist Books for Adults list.
DON’T APOLOGIZE, TAKE ACTION
- Parents, remember that you are the example and role model for your child. Kids learn by listening and watching you.
- If you have privilege, use it to help amplify voices of color and issues of inequity.
- Donate to local organizations working to end racial inequity such as the United Way of Washtenaw County, which has an Opportunity Fund that focuses on issues of equity, or Black Men Read, an organization that sends black men to read to kids throughout the community.
- Help protesters by bringing food, water, and PPE to where protesters are.
- Find other ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
- If you see a book on one of our book lists that you want to buy, consider purchasing it from Black Stone Bookstore instead of Amazon, to support a locally owned black business.