How to Discuss Race with Your Child

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With all that is going on in the world right now, there may be no better time to talk with your children about race and racism. Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital experts weigh in on how to best discuss this topic with your kids and share their top tips to help turn the conversation into a teachable moment.

Q: Where do I start when it comes to discussing the topic of racism with my kids?
A: Pediatric psychologist, Adelle Cadieux, PsyD: It’s important to acknowledge that racism exists and that bad things have and do happen because of racism. Ask your child what they think racism is, what they have learned about racism and what questions they have about it. This allows you as a parent to address misconceptions and answer the questions that are important to your child. Leave the door open so your child knows it’s OK to ask more questions later or to bring the topic up again.

Q: At what age should I start having this discussion?
A: Pediatric psychologist, Brittany Barber Garcia, PhD: Acknowledging and celebrating differences for toddlers and young children is appropriate and helpful. By the time kids are starting elementary school, it’s appropriate to teach them what race is and to begin asking questions about what they see and notice about how people are treated and what questions they have.

Q: How do I adapt the message differently by age?
A: Division chief for adolescent medicine, Lisa Lowery, MD: Keep it age appropriate. Sometimes when little kids notice differences, that’s a good time to engage. And it doesn’t have to be just one talk, but ongoing conversations.

Q: When I talk about race and racism, what should I say?
A: Dr. Barber Garcia: It is important to define race and racism in simple and clear terms. It is then important to ask questions and listen to what your kids have to say and respond to their thoughts.

Q: As a parent, what can I do?
A: Dr. Cadieux: Modeling is a great way to teach our children. Model acceptance and respect. Model standing up for others. When current events happen, talk to your kids about what they have seen or heard and what questions they have about it. It’s OK to acknowledge that bad things happen, but also limit the amount of exposure they have of the event so that they are not reviewing the event repeatedly.

Specialized pediatric care close to home

Patients at Spectrum Health Lakeland have access to expert care from more than 300 pediatric providers, in more than 50 services and programs at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Children can receive care at the regional pediatric specialty clinic established at the Center for Outpatient Services in St. Joseph or at the hospital’s main campus in Grand Rapids. Visit helendevoschildrens.org to learn more.

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