“How to talk to your children about Race”
As parents we are often surprised by the questions our children ask. Some questions like “Why is the sky blue?” or “How do seeds grow?” are relatively easy to answer. Other questions are not so easy and generally come out of nowhere. Often I am caught totally off guard with no idea how to respond to my son or daughter. At the same time, these questions are often important to address before timing is lost and their six-year-old attention span moves on. On Friday night, Simon asked me one of these vital questions. For the past week, Simon has been looking forward to going soap box racing with his Beaver troop. Simon was excited about the event all week, constantly reminding me to fix his hockey helmet. On Friday night, the day before the event, I went to re-attach the cage to the front of his helmet but I couldn’t find the screws. So we got in the car and drove to the sports store. After waiting for a few minutes at the service desk, a friendly clerk asked us how he could help. Right after the clerk left to get the screws we needed, Simon got up really close to me and whispered: “Why is that man a different colour?” Ever had one of those moments where you hear the scratch of a needle on a vinyl record? Well, this was one. I asked Simon to wait until we got back to the car to answer his question, partially to give myself time to think and partially to avoid stick handling the answer badly. The clerk came back shortly with the screws needed and told me with a smile that they were free. I thanked him and headed to the car. Once we were in the car, I asked Simon to tell me the question he asked me in the store. He was hesitant to repeat it. As I looked at him, waiting for a response, it was obvious to me that he wanted to ask that question for a while now and wasn’t sure whether he would get in trouble for asking. He responded, “Forget it dad,” and asked me to drive home. I didn’t. First of all, I told him that the question he asked was a good one and that I was glad he asked. Secondly I said gently, “Never be afraid to ask me questions that you are unsure about. Usually they are really important, just like this one.” I have taken two Masters Courses on Inclusion and Racism and have participated in many workshops on addressing issues of Race in Education. While helpful to me in my work as a vice-principal, the answers I possessed were not particularly easy for a six-year-old to understand. The answer I gave to my son was from a well-known verse Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I explained that after God had created day and night, land and sea, plants and animals, he decided to make man and woman to look like him. That makes us special, everyone special. Even though some people might be a different colour or have different abilities or talents, we are all the same in God’s eyes and equally important. We talked about the people we knew at church and in the community that were a different colour and how he shared the same beliefs or interests or activities as they did. I wanted my son to focus on the similarities we share with everyone on the planet rather than our differences. I needed this principle to become the foundation for future discussions we will have about race, ethnicity and ability. The entire conversation lasted only about 5 minutes, even though it felt like an hour because I didn’t want to mess my answer up. As I started the car, and look in the rearview mirror, I could see the tension gone from Simon’s body. He caught my eye and smiled. So how do you address the difficult questions that your children throw at you? 1. Don’t avoid answering the question. – Your child needs to know that you are interested in their thoughts and problems. By taking the time to answer them when they are little, you will build the foundation for your children to ask you questions when they are teens. 2. Take your time answering. – There is no harm in taking a few minutes to collect your thoughts before answering your child. If you need more time, tell them, but don’t forget. 3. But be wary of the time. – Don’t engage in an important discussion 5 minutes before you have a hockey game. You also know your child’s attention span; use to guide your response. 4. Make sure your answer is age appropriate. – Use examples and analogies that your children can understand. Make sure that they understand what you have been saying by getting them to explain it back to you. Ask them follow-up questions; if they didn’t understand, try again. 5. Seek your answer in God’s word. – There are a lot of good bible websites out there which provide topical quotations to help you. I found http://www.openbible.info/topics/ and http://www.biblegateway.com/ particularly useful for my blog and personal devotions.