How to talk to your children about racism

DETROIT – As we wrap up another emotional week of angry protests in cities across the country, worried parents are struggling with how to protect their children from seeing the violence and also talk to them about racism.

LIST: Racial injustice, anti-police brutality protests planned today in SE Michigan

Dr. Carol High-Van Dyke has always openly talked to her son Matthew about race since he was a little boy. He’s now 25 years old and a law school graduate. Their conversations about race have continued, they’ve just taken on a different tone.

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“My husband had that conversation with him about being a black man in America," High-Van Dyke said. “If you get stopped by the police, there’s a certain way to conduct yourself because if you get stopped by the police, chances are, you may not come home alive. It’s those real conversations that we black people have to have, in particularly with their sons regarding being a person of color.”

High-Van Dyke is a child psychologist who believes parents should use the recent events unfolding across the globe to talk to their children about race.

“America is experiencing national trauma because of this tragedy that America has seen. I think that all of us, black people, have absolutely been having these conversations forever, but I think now that it has become a global issue," High-Van Dyke said. "It’s around the world that people are protesting. It’s forcing these conversations that white people are or need to have with your children, because now it’s exposed us more.”

She said the best place to start is to ask your children what they already know. What have they seen on TV or on social media?

“The preschool and elementary school age kids are beginning to ask questions and a lot of the questions that they are asking is about skin color. They know at that early age that my skin color looks different from somebody else’s and I think that those are the times that white parents should start having conversations when they’re asking questions about color,” High-Van Dyke said. “Why does my skin color look different from hers? And I think an appropriate response would be ‘God made us all uniquely different and that’s okay.'"

When it comes down to what to say to your children, let their age guide you. She said younger children shouldn’t be exposed to any of this violence, but if your young children have already seen it, how do you explain it to them?

“'Sometimes in this country, we have officers that mistreat people of color,' and I think that a white parent needs to be honest about what it is that they see in that video and have an open dialogue,” High-Van Dyke said. “'That is not right and that police officer should have never handled that situation in that way, but because we’re in a world where we are judged according to our skin color, there is racial injustice and inequality in this country.'"

She emphasizes its important to take care of yourself first and make sure you’re in the right frame of mind when talking to your children about race.

Most importantly, remember that children learn by their parent’s example.

“If they’re saying this and educating their kid about race, but the child does not see the parent being inclusive of people of different races, that is going to send a mixed message and that’s not good," High-Van Dyke said. "The child needs to see the parent bringing over a black friend to dinner or a playdate of a different race should be able to play with the child. The parents actions can line up with what they’re telling their kids.”

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