Part two: What every parent needs to know about racism and hate

By Dr. Angelique Jenney, Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health

Last week, we began looking at some effective ways parents can talk to their children about racism and hate in our society, in their schools and in everyday life. Make sure to check out PART ONE. In PART TWO this week, we hope to provide parents with some more useful information and tools they can use when discussing these very complex, sometimes very difficult issues.

PART TWO: What every parent needs to know about racism and hate

Break down faith barriers:  This is a hard one; so often it seems that to believe in something other than our own doctrines is unfaithful. However, all faiths offer something positive that can be taken from them. There are many things about faith and the accompanying rituals of others that are not well understood – but is criticism necessary? Perhaps curiosity is the better approach. One does not need to agree or change one’s faith based on another’s fervor, nor is it necessary or useful to say or do hateful and hurtful things. Changing this can start with all of us. Instead of downplaying someone else’s religion, encourage exploration of it. Here’s an example:

Child:  “Myriam at school is weird, she can’t eat during the day.”

Parent: “Wow, that must be very hard and an important spiritual practice for her. How can we find out more about that?”  OR

Child: “I don’t want to go to school this week. It’s hard for me to tell the other kids I can’t eat during the day – even Sarah makes fun of me!”

Parent: “Maybe we can invite your friend Sarah to come and break fast with us this evening, maybe her parents would like to come too?”

Don’t stop thinking and talking about it:  Racism and hatred are everywhere, and could easily be a daily topic of conversation.  The more we talk about it, the more we raise awareness and develop comfort with hard topics, and reduce the impact of them over time.  When your child says something and you aren’t sure how to respond, it can help to try to understand it a bit more, “What makes you say that?” or “Where did you hear that?”

Resist it: Help your child resist racism and hate, not just be protected from it.  Ideas about the ‘other’ are everywhere and we are the only ones who can change those ideas. Promote inclusiveness and empathy – you want your children to be able to manage what it’s like to be ‘the other’. What does it feel like to be different? To feel left out? What can you do to make sure other kids don’t feel that way too?

Break down the act of labelling, such as ‘all Muslims are bad’ or ‘all white people are racist.’ When something like that comes up, try saying something to your child like: “Not all people are the same – all people are different and share some similarities. You and (insert best friend, sibling, etc.) have the same skin/hair/eye colour/religion, but does that make you think exactly the same as each other?”

Emphasize similarities, such as “we all want to feel safe” or  “we all have someone in our lives who we love” and “no one wants to be hurt or feel bad.”

Become more comfortable with diversity: This is really about increasing your own exposure to difference; it’s the only way to combat the fear of it, and to discover why it’s fascinating and not always threatening. Find ways to populate your lives with more difference:

    • If you do not live in a diverse neighbourhood, are there activities that you could be involved in that might provide that? How about attending a local cultural festival?
    • Choose books and toys that illustrate different ethnicities, ways of life and  choices that people make.
    • Try venturing out to ethnic restaurants to try new foods.
    • Choose to educate yourselves as a family by watching documentaries that provide different perspectives; not just historically important films like Selma and 12 Years a Slave, but movies like Straight Outta Compton where race and humanity are intertwined.
    • Watching foreign films together can provide eye opening experiences about how other people live, and a great opportunity to talk about similarities and differences. (And you can’t look at your phone AND read a subtitle!)

Don’t talk about hate without talking about hope: Much of what we are dealing with in this world is related to hate, but there really is so much more. When bad things happen, ask children to consider all the people who did something to help, instead of to hurt. Ask your children for some solutions to quell hate and ways that we can all make a difference.

Here in Calgary this year, Mayor Naheed Nenshi had some of the best advice for creating the communities that we all desire and deserve:

“We as Canadians are not defined by hatred, we are defined by how we, every one of us, respond to that hatred. We are defined by how we, every one of us, as every day people using our everyday hands, our everyday hearts, our everyday souls and our everyday voices make extraordinary change for others in our community.

(Watch the whole thing here)

Think your child or family is being impacted by racism or other forms of hate-based harm? Have you noticed your child(ren) having trouble eating, sleeping, not wanting to go to school, worried about safety in the world? We’re here to help. Please call our counsellors at our 24/7 Crisis Counselling Line: 403-299-9699 or toll-free line: 1-800-563-6106.

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