Black History Month | SAFY

Helping children understand diversity

Veronica Farris, MBA

Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer

Race matters in the child welfare system.  While poverty is the single most important predictor of placement in foster care, white children who are abused or neglected are twice as likely as children of African descent to receive services in their own homes.  Child welfare for African American children often means shattering the bonds with their parents.  

February celebrates Black History Month. It’s a time to reflect, pay tribute and honor generations of African Americans who made significant contributions to communities across the United States.  The Library of Congress offers historical context for African American History Month and serves as a portal linking to a wealth of resources from the Smithsonian, National Park Service, National Archives and the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

But the month should serve as much more than a history lesson. This is a time to teach our children compassion and respect for all people, regardless of abilities, race, gender identity or socio-economic status. It’s a time to reinforce how we all can contribute to a better, kinder world, and how tolerance, justice and knowledge make our communities stronger and unified. Parent Rochaun Meadows Fernandez shares her experience about how to use this month as an opportunity to instill year-round confidence in children. 

How to raise race-conscious children

There’s no question: talking about race can be sensitive, and yes, even a bit messy. And “choosing” whether to talk to your kids about race is an option many parents, specifically those of color, don’t have; some children may inevitably learn about it by confronting racism in their everyday lives.  

This can make the conversation about race even trickier, as what is discussed can change depending on a variety of factors, such as a family’s make up, their socioeconomic class, or the community where they live. 

So, where should parents begin? A parent could begin by exposing their children to different cultures and ethnicities in informal ways such as visiting a cultural museum or watching a movie about another culture. Ultimately, parents should model relationships and interactions with people and cultures that are different from you and what you’ve known. We are all raised differently and getting to know people outside of your race or culture can bring about understanding, a new appreciation for similarities and remove stereotypes and perceived biases.

Teach children how our experiences make us different

Each of us has an identity that shapes how we see ourselves and others. Consider your family’s experience of simple life activities such as:

  • Shopping without fear of being followed or harassed
  • The assumption that an individual is law abiding until they show they are not. People of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are routinely assumed to be criminals or potential criminals until they show they are not  
  • Using personal faults or missteps to deny opportunities or compassion to people who share a racial identity.

Teach children to be critical thinkers, specifically about prejudice and discrimination. When we strive to understand issues through examining and questioning, children can begin to develop the ability to know when words and experiences are unfair or hurtful.

Teach children to lead with empathy

Life isn’t always going to run as smoothly as we hope. Differences arise. How we, as parents, react to those differences is important. Help your kids focus on what they have in common with others, as well as how each person’s unique qualities contribute to the greater whole. Remind your children that life would be less interesting if everyone looked and sounded the same. What if every person was good as the same thing? We wouldn’t have sports teams, clubs or music. While we all have some commonality, some differences are good, too.  In order to create change in the world, we must first see and understand our place in it.

Here are some ways to help teach children these skills:

  • Say “please” and “thank you” often.  These small words tell children (and others): You are just as important as I am, and you deserve the same respect.
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  Teach children that sometimes the best option is just keeping quiet.  It isn’t always necessary to give an opinion.
  • Learn to listen. Encourage children to give their full attention to whoever is speaking.  Let them see you making eye contact. Invite them to ask questions afterward rather than interrupt someone as they are speaking.

Be the change you want to see in your children

We are our children’s best examples. Take the time to nurture sensitivity, kindness, acceptance and empathy among your children and families. At SAFY, we work to strengthen families and communities through therapeutic foster care, behavioral health, adoption, family preservation and older youth services. Together, we help families have hope, heal and thrive. 

For more information about SAFY’s programs and services, please call 1-866-635-9714 or email info@safy.org.

 

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