DENVER (CBS4) – Having dialogue about the state of the world to your adult friends and family is one thing, but how do you address delicate conversations like racism and injustices to your child? Dr. Rosemarie Allen, an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the President and CEO of the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence, understands the sensitivity of talking to your children about racism and encourages parents to have these difficult conversations.
“If we want to prepare our children for a diverse world, we have to have conversations about race and diversity,” Allen said.
“So many people feel that if I talk about race, I’m promoting racism and the opposite is actually true. When we talk about race and what we see, and we talk about injustice, it makes a difference.”
One of the first suggestions Dr. Allen has is to celebrate all the differences between races in your conversations with your child. Whether it’s different skin color, hair textures or the color of someone’s eyes.
“Young children very naturally categorize everything. They will categorize cars from trucks and blocks, red blocks from blue box and in the same way they categorize people. And this starts really early at about 2 years old. So, if we’re not careful on talking about differences and celebrating differences, then that categorization can be based on negative perceptions about people rather than just a difference in skin color. That’s why it’s so important that we have these conversations and become very comfortable with having them very casually.”
Next, similar to celebrating differences, find ways to eliminate colorblindness through activities, books, figurines, posters and conversation.
“Have children paint portraits of themselves using ‘people colors’ or mixing colors to find the color that’s just perfectly their shade. Talk about different textures of hair from straight to curly, to kinky. Talk about different foods, about different languages, how to say to your child, ‘Oh my gosh, how lucky is Adrianna that she knows two languages?’ and to celebrate in a very positive way,” Dr. Allen said.
“We all want to be seen. We all want to be recognized. We all want to be noticed — no one wants to be invisible — and that’s what being colorblind does. It makes us invisible, but in a very superficial way, because we see color, whether we want to admit it or not.”
Another approach Dr. Allen recommends is helping your child come to an understanding of fairness. She uses parks as an example.
“Children, as young as 3 and 4, understand what’s fair. So, when you begin those conversations about what’s fair, you know that there are some neighborhoods, especially where there’s lots of people of color, where they don’t have parks or safe parks to play in. Do you think that’s fair that we have all these parks and some people don’t have parks? And that’s how you start that conversation very generally, very casually,” she said.
“Take them from being curious and talking about differences to pointing out injustices, to finally interrupting injustice so that we can make this world a better place.”
ADDRESSING SECONDARY TRAUMA
With so many different media outlets showing protests and even the death of George Floyd, Dr. Allen explains young kids could be suffering from secondary trauma and parents should speak and observe their children’s behavior and conversations.
“Children are seeing a lot more than we think and the danger with seeing the same frame over and over is that sometimes children think it’s happening over and over. They don’t understand that what happened to George Floyd happened once because they’ve seen it now four times,” she said.
“If your child has seen this video and you’re noticing changes in behavior. If all of a sudden they’re withdrawing, they’re crying, they’re becoming more clingy, their sleeping patterns and eating patterns have been interrupted, you have to make sure not only are you there for your child, but you have access to mental health professionals so that the child and you can get the help that you need.”