Ask an expert - Alexis Cameron, child therapist

How can parents help children understand and combat racism?

"Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is what nurtures transformation."

This counsel from child therapist Alexis Cameron encapsulates her belief that constructive conversations on racial injustice at home require honesty and humility.

"This isn't something that should be sugar-coated. We want kids to be informed, and we want to make sure that the messages we're sharing with our children are factual," said Cameron, on staff at Life Insight Therapy Collective in Hinsdale.

Intentionality and persistence are also vital. Reticence, however, is counterproductive.

"Silence is not helpful. Silence can indicate acceptance (of injustice)," she said. Cameron also cautioned against expressions like "I don't see color" that devalue the discriminatory treatment people of different races have endured.

"We're completely dismissing the experience of those who say color determines what their experience may look like," she said.

The first step is having the courage to enter into the uncomfortable.

"(Addressing racism) can induce a lot of fear or worry as many parents are not confident in discussing it," Cameron acknowledged.

An African-American, Cameron said the discussion of racism was simply known as "the talk" in her home and is a rite of passage in many black households. Tense interactions with law enforcement are addressed, but that doesn't make the killing of George Floyd and other recent cases of black men and women dying at the hands of white actors any less anguishing.

"It's been difficult seeing people getting murdered who have the same skin color as mine," she related. "It's been heartbreaking for me as I question how many lives need to be lost until we can be treated equally as human beings."

That question has no convenient answer, and children will also pose ones that parents struggle to satisfy. And that's OK, Cameron assured. Kids asking questions shows engagement, and parents must be willing to learn right along with them.

"You can say, 'That was a really good question. Can we look this up together because I think that be a really good experience for both of us,' " Cameron advised.

While youth may glean information from friends or electronic media, parents need to drive age-appropriate conversations in a safe, judgment-free environment that validate their children's feelings.

"Parents can pay an important role in the development of socially just children, who can grow up and be advocates for justice and equality," she said.

Guard against overexposure to the 24-7 media coverage, which is often packaged to provoke.

"You can become so consumed by it that it's having a negative impact on you," she said.

Young people can be remarkably resilient, she said, and that should give parents confidence in both teaching and listening.

"Making sure children feel very supported and safe is really important," she said. "Then they'll be more willing to go to you for help, and it can really help with the relationship dynamic within the family."

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean