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Talking to keiki about racism

Jun. 18, 2020

As protests over the violent deaths of black Americans dominate the news and social media, many children are feeling scared, confused or angry. Talking to keiki about the turmoil is tough but necessary. Following are some guidelines and valuable resources parents can use to help keiki better understand racism.

Speak calmly and validate their feelings
Talk to your keiki calmly to help them process information. Ask them broad questions like, “How did you feel about what we saw on the news?” Listen intently. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad or angry about injustice, as long as it doesn’t stop them from working to make it better.

Be clear, direct and factual
Speak to keiki in developmentally appropriate ways, using clear language. Instead of saying “People are mad because some groups treat other groups unfairly,” say “What we see on the news is how some white people treat black people unfairly.”

Emphasize that racial violence is wrong
Some of our kids may think that bad things happen to black people because of how they are portrayed in the media or through observation. Explain to your child that being black doesn’t make you bad. Treating people unfairly because they are black is what is bad. As your keiki matures, teach them about the long history of systemic racism, violence and discrimination in the USA.

Be a good role model
Make it clear to your child that they should not put up with racism or violence, whether it’s directed at them or others. Show your keiki how you respond during stressful encounters. Create and role-play a script of what they can say if they encounter discrimination or witness a peer being treated differently.

Rely on your support system
Witnessing scenes of racist violence can be deeply upsetting. Be sure to care for your own mental health during this time especially given the additional stress of the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed reach out to friends, family members, your kahu and mental health professionals who can help you process your emotions and plan conversations with your keiki.

Keep the conversation going
Like any important topic, racism isn’t something you can have “the talk” about just once. For kids of any age and race, it is a subject that will keep coming up, so be sure to let your keiki know that you’re there for them if they need to talk.


Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism [VIDEOS]
CNN/Sesame Street Town Hall

How to Talk with Kids About Racism and Racial Violence [VIDEO]
Common Sense Media

Twelve Books to Help Children Understand Race, Anti-Racism and Protest
Smithsonian Magazine

Talking to Kids about Discrimination
American Psychological Association

Helping Children Cope with Frightening News
Child Mind Institute

Additional Resources & Healing Toolkits
Black Lives Matter

A Parent’s guide to Black Lives Matter
Yoopies #strongerunited

malama ola minute, racism, safety and well-being

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