Photo from our family shoot with the amazing Devon of Devon Michelle Photography
I don’t pretend to be a perfect parent. At all. Like many, some days I’m just glad we made it through the day and managed to put on clothes and eat food.
But it recently occurred to me how one particular activity that I’ve been doing with my kids ever since I can remember is very, very right. I talk with them. And that would be with them, and not just at them. You see, it’s always been important to me that my children are not only comfortable with their ethnicity (they are bi-racial), but that they learn to love and get along with people who look, act, and believe differently than they do. As today is Martin Luther King Jr Day, I thought it would be fitting to share how I’m talking with my kids about these topics and I hope, encourage you to have similar talks with your kids.
When to have important conversations with your kids
I find the best conversations I have with my kids are in the car. They aren’t distracted, they can’t avoid me, and sometimes they’re just looking for a way to escape the boredom on a 30-minute drive to Grandma’s house. Maybe around the dinner table would be better for your family. Or just before bedtime, after the stories have been read. Find a time when you can engage your kids.
Also, mood matters. If my kids are in good spirits, the conversation gets farther than if they’re having “one of those days.” My kids are also… kids, which means they get in some super silly moods where anything I say will send them into hysterics. I know that attempting anything serious is just going to be futile.
As far as age goes? I have had talks about diversity and respect as long as I can remember! There are definitely ways to keep it simple for the littlest ones.
Work to make these conversations, not lectures. I personally like to ask my kids questions to keep things going. Here are a few different questions you could ask to get a conversation going (you can modify any of these for age/situation appropriateness):
Come up with a hypothetical scenario
Make up a situation and have your child come up with a solution.
Let’s say you see a kid at school who looks different than the other kids. No one else is playing with him or sitting with him. What’s one thing you could do?
What if you see a child who’s acting really strange in a grocery store. Should you point at them and say, “wow! that person is crazy?”! What are some of the reasons someone might act differently than you? (in this case, I might give some possible answers here if my kids can’t come up with any)
What if you are talking to someone and you learn that they don’t believe in God the same way you do. Is it OK to be mean to them?
My kids actually see this as a game and love it when I come up with situations like this for them to work through!
Use Real Life Scenarios
This might sound sort of bad, but if my kids see or hear of another kid acting up, I’ll often ask them questions such as:
What was wrong with the way they acted?
How could they have acted differently?
(And if my kid knows them personally) How can you encourage them to make better choices next time?
Sometimes my kids are far more receptive about processing stuff like this when they aren’t in the hot seat!
I love a good viral story! And one of my favorites is Jonathan and his trusty friend Charlotte who blow away the audience at Britain’s You’ve Got Talent a few years back. I shared this video with my kids the other night for a couple reasons:
1. I wanted to share an example of why you can’t judge someone by the way they look and that we should work to find what’s special about every person we encounter. The boy in this video admits to having been badly teased by his looks.
2. The boy’s friend in this video is what a true friend does. They come to your rescue. They stand with you when no one does. They see you for what’s inside.
Here’s the video, which you must see by the way if you’ve not already!
Ask them “why?”
Instead of explaining why something may be, have your child wrestle through it a bit.
Why do you think some people would judge someone by the way they look? Is that ever OK?
Why is slavery wrong?
Why is Martin Luther King important?
Often, my kids may only have a partial answer, or none at all. In this case, I’ll help them work through it the best I can. Life being what it is, sometimes there aren’t very good or pat answers to these questions either. That means we get to keep coming back to these topics as we grow.
Reaffirming my Kids
When my daughter was little, she hated her curly hair. HATED it. She wanted it to be straight, like Mommy’s. This broke my heart because I saw her hair as one of these beautiful features that made her unique. I just kept on telling her what beautiful hair she had – and how pretty and long it was when we washed it. She loved seeing the movie Brave that depicted a princess with a similar hair texture, and I learned how to do her hair in different styles. These days? She loves her hair!
Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell my kids how special they are – because they have a little bit of me and a little bit of daddy. But I also tell them how everyone else they encounter is a miracle too. No matter our skin color, hair texture, ethnic heritage, height, weight, size, or shape – we’re all unique. We all have something special to offer – like the talented boy in the YouTube video.
Last week, I had a wonderful discussion with my 7-year old son about Martin Luther King Jr and why he was important. We talked about racial injustice, segregation, and more personally, why we know which countries Mommy’s ancestors came from but not Daddy’s. I was amazed that the conversation wasn’t overwhelming or difficult – it came naturally because we’d had so many conversations that had led up to it. In that span of about 10 minutes, I once again realized how easy it is to underestimate kids.
And I do believe it all starts with kids.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. – Martin Luther King Jr 1929 – 1968