How I talked to my child about race and violence in Virginia

My oldest tiny human is about to be 7-years-old. On the weekends he still takes a nap when his brothers do.

Mi familia. At least some of them, moms side.

He caught me sneaking in some news time while he was supposed to be napping. And that led us to having a conversation about the events in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend.

I come from a huge bi-racial, multi-racial family. I am half Puerto Rican and Irish.

My boys don’t see people by what others define them and it’s a beautiful thing. We have simply raised them to love people the way Jesus did.

To be inclusive.

They see people are all different, “Colors of God’s rainbow” as my Jay bear says. Race is discussed because it’s obvious in our family.

Tragic violence erupted in Charlottesville

Car crashes into crowd, protesters draw blood, toss urine at violent ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville. Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

Over the weekend one person was killed when a car rammed into a ‘Unite the Right’ rally.

Specifically my son caught me watching very raw and violent video of the events. I didn’t even notice he had come downstairs until I heard his tiny voice ask me, “Why would someone do that mom?”

My heart sank.

My sons live in this very safe and protective bubble we’ve created for them. They don’t hear racial slurs, or see individuals demeaning others for their lifestyles or choices. They see a family that just simply loves on everyone.

I felt so guilty that he had to see how ugly the world is, in that moment. I felt like I unintentionally robbed him of the purity in his heart.

Winging it

Male hand using Tv remote control

Immediately I shut the TV off and embraced his arms. I just hugged him while I collected my racing thoughts.

What exactly do you tell your innocent child about the heinous acts of others that stem from things he can’t possibly understand at this time?

I had no time to research what to do or say, so I winged it. Which is 99 percent of what parenting is, right?

My voice quivered as I told him, “Baby, some people are just mean and nasty for reasons we can never understand fully.”

People used to ask my mother if she was our nanny. Friends have asked me if my mother was my biological mother. She had gorgeous olive skin, I look like my Irish dad.

One mental health professional in Georgia had some insight for parents to consider when getting ready to address recent news headlines.

Tips to talk to your kids about race:

Karla Sapp, a mental health counselor in Georgia and mother of two, gave nine tips for talking about the Charlottesville violence with your children.

  1. Talk to your kids, but educate yourself first. Sapp said talking to children about violent events is important to social and emotional development.
  2. Make sure your conversation is age-appropriate. Every mother knows their children best she said. Use examples and terms they can relate to: “If you child is into baseball, use baseball terms.”
  3. Turn off the TV. This can sometimes cause secondary trauma. “Too much exposure takes away their childhood,” Sapp said.
  4. Ask them questions, answer their questions. This better allows parents to be pro-active for possible responses, instead of reactive.
  5. Show them they can effect change in the world. Allow them to come up with creative solutions, work through the kinks with them in a loving way.
  6. Take a historical view. It’s vitally important to look into the history of such events, and why they occur. She said it’s best children hear it first from parents.
  7. Avoid the”we don’t see color” argument. The truth is every race has its issues and hardships. There is a distinction, and it’s beautiful. So embrace it.
  8. Teach them where to get the news. This is especially true for older children who have access to and frequent social media.
  9. Take a break and give them some love. Sapp said parents should leave the invite open for kids to return with questions and concerns at any time. When they do, address them, don’t shove them off.

Could I have done better?

Stack Of Newspapers

The news being on isn’t uncommon in our home. I am a journalist and am typically engulfed in the day’s events.

I’ve covered breaking news and my sons have seen my work.

When they ask questions, I always answer as best I can at age appropriate levels.

I normally dive into deep mommy research mode to prepare myself for things like this. I should have done it when the Ferguson violence occurred. I dismissed it because they were “too young.” Still in diapers.

Race was obvious, but it wasn’t

In retrospect, I did nearly everything wrong.

When I say we talked about race because it’s obvious, I don’t mean racial divides. And perhaps I should do so now.

The kids have asked why some of our cousins are darker skinned than us. Innocent questions. We have simply replied, “because God made everyone different.” We never got into culture, background, differences.

We have talked about why my side of the family celebrates different holidays different than my husband’s. We have talked about historical things, in the very basic, “this happened…” manner.

 

Everything doesn’t have to match

Fun

Janet Alperstein, an expert in multiracial early childhood development, said something very profound to her Guatemalan adopted son that tells me I didn’t completely mess up with my own kids.

Her son asked her why God didn’t make families that matched.

I chuckled at that a little bit, because my wild-eyed boys have asked a similar question. I love her response:

“These are families like ours. Our skin may not look exactly the same, but we are most definitely family.” Alperstein said.

My boys have loads of “family” that are not blood family, but family nonetheless.

The work to be done

I do believe, however, that I have some work to do with my kids when it comes to race and race relations.

I want them to be aware of problems and to devise creative solutions to make our world a better place to live in for everyone.

History is vital. Without knowledge of history, we run the risk of it being repeated. It provides perspective and clarity that nothing else can give.

I need to tell them to come back to me with questions and concerns. As parents sometimes we think after the conversation it’s a done deal. However, most child experts believe children still process the information for days.

If you want more ways to discuss race with your children, visit Raising Race Conscious Children here.

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