Expert advice for talking to kids about race

Police brutality, racial injustice and inequality are all big topics at the center of a national conversation, and parents are faced with when to talk with their children about racism.

While those conversations are tough to have with a child, counselors say they’re important. Counselors say your child’s age will decide how you frame the discussion. For people who experience racism, acknowledging that racism exists matters, and counselors say everyone no matter their race needs to talk about it with their families.

For Tampa college student Monise Bonhomme, 20, she was only in middle school when classmates taunted her about her roots.

“(I was in) sixth grade. When I told them I'm Haitian, my mom and dad are straight from Haiti, they said ‘Oh you came from the banana boat?’ I was like a banana boat, and I was so confused,” said Bonhomme.

That day her parents talked with her about racism.

For parent Latrecia Freeman, her talk with her now 16-year-old son began at an even earlier age after shopping at a store.

“They kept looking at us, and they kept looking at us like we were going to steal the candy, and I'm like, ‘No. I have money. I'm right here. His mom is right here.’ You don't have to do all that looking at him all crazy. He’s only four or five,” said Freeman. “He was wondering, ‘Why did they look at me like that? Why did they act like that toward me?’”

Following protests against racial injustice for nearly two weeks following the murder of George Floyd, families across the country are faced with those hard conversations about race.

“With the state that we're in now, there are individuals who have never experienced this,” said Denise Solomon, a licensed mental health counselor with Supportive Therapy Empowering People in Tampa. “There are individuals who don't know why only Black Lives Matter or they'll come back and say all lives matter. They don't have an understanding, or they think they do or they’re not sure. They don’t realize how many centuries these rights have been fought for.”

Solomon said if your child is young, you can start off with age-appropriate book, films or videos.

“There's a movie called Zootopia that talks about discrimination. We have all seen it, but we really haven't seen it. It's really good to watch,” said Solomon about the movie’s message. “There's also another movie called A Bug's Life that talks about discrimination and oppression.”

Dr. Wendy Rice of Rice Psychology Group in Tampa said this discussion isn’t limited to minorities.

She added that white families should understand their privilege as well.

“A child who is white may have no idea what it’s like to be a child who’s black and the things that they face and the things that they deal with,” said Rice. “The idea isn’t to make white people feel badly. The idea is to educate them and to help open their eyes to what’s going on.”

Therapists said it’s a good idea to ask what your child already knows and go from there.

“The whole idea is that the color of your skin need not define you, and we need to be careful about grouping people and making assumptions,” said Rice.

So when America’s children grow up, the hope is they will be taught empathy and compassion.

“Kids should be taught that at an early age. So, if they grow up to be racist or whatever, then they were taught that,” said Freeman.

Experts say it’s also important to not only recognize racism but also call it out and stand up against racism when you see it, no matter your race. Anti-racism resources available online for children include, this New York Times article, and Children’s books about anti-racism include “The Kids Book About Racism,” “Something Happened in Our Town,” and  “A Snowy Day” which all are read aloud on YouTube.

Counselors say talking about racism with your child should not be a one-time thing. It should be a conversation you continue to have as they grow up and they gain more world experiences.

“My perspective is always treat someone with kindness,” said Bonhomme. “It doesn't matter what skin they have. It doesn't matter where they came from.”