I love being a Dad. I love being a grandfather even more. Our grandson is too young to talk yet, but I look forward to when he does. If he is anything like my children were growing up, he is going to pepper his parents with lots of questions. It will be interesting to see how well his parents respond to the onslaught.
You remember some of the questions you had to field: “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do people die?” “Where do I come from?” “Who or what is God?” “How can Santa Claus visit all the people in the world in one night?”
According to a recent study, curious children ask a staggering 73 questions every day … half of which parents struggle to answer. So how do we respond to their seemingly endless questions when some of them may now include, “Why do some people have different skin color, or hair texture than we do?” “What is race and why are people upset about it?”
I confess I haven’t always handled my kid’s questions effectively in the moment they asked them. Experience and training have taught me to resist the temptation to blow off the difficult ones and to take the time to make certain I understand why they are asking. If I need time to process the question or get more information, I will tell the child (or any person) when I will get back to them and do it.
Second, I ask them what are their thoughts about what the answer may be and their feelings about it. This gives me a greater context for the questions and also gauge if the subject is a cause of anxiety for them.
Finally, I affirm them. That is, I will tell them that they asked a good question, or an important question I want to take the time to get a good answer for. This keeps the lines of communication open for more questions when they get older and lets them know they can trust us with difficult, uncomfortable issues.
Respond by asking why they want to know in a friendly, open manner. Ask what do they think or what have they heard? And tell them they have asked a tough, but really important question that you will do your best to answer.
If children experience anxiety or tension, remember that they have a great need to have “felt safety.” If they sense tension or anxiety in adults, they may feel less safe and more anxious. The late Dr. Karyn Purvis, former head of the TCU Institute of Child Development, defined Felt Safety as, “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you.” So, you want to be relaxed and calm when having a conversation about race (and any other difficult topic).
I find that preparation reduces my anxiety of sharing difficult subjects with others. I would recommend reading the book White Fragility (Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about race) by Dr. Robin DiAngelo and A Kid’s Book about Racism by Jelani Memory, with your kids 5 and over.
You could also watch a kid-friendly movie or television show with your child or youth and then ask them what they think about certain scenes or situations. A brief list would include:
Akeelah & the Bee – a movie about eleven-year-old Akeelah, an African-American girl from South L.A., competes in the National Spelling Bee.
Invictus – Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman star in a deeply moving true story of two men who unite to heal the wounds of a nation.
Doc McStuffins – the title character of this too-cute series is an African-American girl who’s a doctor to toys, just like her mom is a doctor to people.
The Secret Life of Bees – This book-turned-movie offers a glimpse into life during the civil rights movement.
‘42’ – For older kids, the story of real-life baseball legend Jackie Robinson is an eye-opener.
I would remind/explain to them that God created all of mankind in His image, beginning with Adam and Eve. So we are all image bearers of God, regardless of our skin color, where we live, or where we go to school. God sees us as all the same.