No Sugar Coating

When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something light-hearted, maybe even something inspired by the newly released Beauty and the Beast movie, but I couldn’t after my son shared a story about his friend experiencing racism.

It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but the conversation I’ve had with my son has stayed with me since we had it, and I need to get this out.

Have you talked to your child about racism?

I’ve never felt equipped to talk about racism to my children because I’ve experienced very little racism myself.  Gender inequality and sexism I can speak volumes to, but I’m no expert on racism. I can remember when my oldest son first learned about Rosa Parks in kindergarten and became obsessed with understanding why African-Americans were treated so unfairly. “Why did black people have to sit in the back of the bus in the first place?” he asked. I’d respond with something along the lines of “People were small minded”, “People were ignorant”, or “It’s complicated, but know that it was wrong and horribly unfair.”

Both my boys have questioned racism over the years, particularly anytime they’ve overheard a news report. “Why did the police officer shoot that man who was running away from him?” “What’s going on in Ferguson?” “Why don’t some people like Obama?” Each time, my husband and I have attempted to answer their questions, but I’ve never felt like we gave adequate responses. For me, the hardest thing I’ve had to try to explain to my children as their parent is why adults behave badly. And when I hear (or see) another adult being visibly racist its the epitome of adults behaving badly in my book. Children learn from adults, so as teachers of our children we are all responsible for racism continuing (whether we are the ones perpetrating it or standing by and letting it happen). Now, I know there are many reasons why many of us aren’t more vocal or willing to take action when we see it: we fear retaliation, we think it’s none of our business, or because we’re complacent and/or complicit; but what does that teach our kids?

Earlier this week, my son came home from school and asked “why are people still so racist?” I asked him what he was talking about, as he was clearly upset. “Shawn (who is a black friend of his) told me he was playing outside with his brothers over the weekend and a neighbor called the cops of them. They weren’t doing anything wrong, they were just playing. Why would someone do that?” he asked, then added, “He was pretty scared, but thankfully the cop told him that he wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t going to be arrested and not to worry about it.” I was stunned, and saddened. The only “crime” Shawn was guilty of was being black in a predominantly white part of town. I live in a liberal-minded, highly diverse city, and foolishly thought things like this didn’t still happen here. But it did. If my son had been doing the same thing his friend had, no one would have called the cops on him. I moved from sad to mad. I wanted to do something about it, but was at a loss. I had no idea who called the police. I couldn’t confront them. All I knew to do was talk to my son about what happened. I shared his anger in what happened, we talked about what Shawn must have gone through and how scary that must have been; and that what happened wasn’t right. I felt good that we acknowledged the injustice, but felt helpless to right this wrong.

I’m hate racism (the irony of this statement is not lost on me).  There’s no way to sugar coat this. It’s ugly. I don’t see the benefit in breaking each other down and holding each other back. How do we get through the hate (or fear or whatever is allowing this to continue) and get to the other side of understanding and acceptance? How do we become a culture that wants to help each other not hurt each other. I feel ill-equipped to address this beyond my family. But starting at home is exactly where it should begin, right? It starts with me as my kids’ parent. It starts with you.

How are you teaching your child to accept and care for others that are different from them?

Anger Management

Have you experienced your child having an angry outburst? How did you handle it?

Our son had an angry outburst during a Pokemon game at his after school care program. He was playing with one of his classmates who was beating him soundly continuing to use the same card to do “damage” (a Pokemon term that refers to an ability to weaken/damage another character). My son didn’t like it. Another classmate who was observing the game decide to goad my son. “You’re gonna lose. You’re gonna lose.” Well, my son lost it. He took his opponents’s card and attempted to destroy it, and slapped his classmate who was goading him on. It all happened very fast. He reached his boiling point and lashed out. Caregivers descended to attend to each child and my son was lead to the office to cool down and later apologize.  When he got home, my husband and I talked with him about what happened. It was clear he understood he did something he shouldn’t have, and there would be consequences (we made him write apology notes to both boys). What he was struggling with was figuring out how he could better control his anger to avoid situations like this in the future.

My husband and I worked with our son, both on the letters (prompting him to think through what he’d done, how the other boys might feel and what he would like to hear/know from a classmate if they did something similar to him), and how we needed to continue to work with him on developing his thinking brain. His feeling brain currently had way too much power and control over his actions that were leading to the situation he was presently in.

We went back to school the next morning and I spoke to his teachers about what my husband and I had asked him to do (e.g. write the letters to the boys). I shared he was struggling with the task, and might need some help or guidance. If my son was angry at his classmates he played Pokemon with, he was doubly angry with my husband and I. After talking to his teachers, I went to my son. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I hate you!” In that moment, I knew that he meant it to his core. And I can relate to the feeling, I felt it myself many times with my own parents–you don’t like the consequence you are getting, you don’t think it’s fair or just, and you don’t like or appreciate the lesson you are being taught. I told him, “Your feeling brain is in control and your thinking brain is taking a time-out in a chair off to the side observing what’s going on. We have to work together to build up your thinking brain, so you can make choices that help you get what you want without hurting others, and we can avoid these situations in the future.” I continued, “My job as a parent is to teach you things and keep you safe. This is part of me teaching you. It’s hard. No parent wants to hear that their kid hates them, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay if it helps you learn and grow.” My son didn’t say anything. I knew it was time for me to go. He needed to think about what I had said, and I needed to think about how he was feeling and what he was going through. It wasn’t an easy time for either of us.

The teacher later reached out and said my son cooled off after a while and gotten back to his old self. When I picked him up in the afternoon, he was happier than I’d seen him in days. I didn’t broach the subject right away, but gave us some time to enjoy being happy together. After a while, I asked, “you were pretty unhappy with me this morning, how are you doing now?” He looked at me and replied, “Okay.” Our eyes met and I could tell he no longer was carrying that I-hate-you inside him towards me. I hugged him and commented that growing up can be tough sometimes, and left it at that. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying each other’s company.

Raising kids is challenging. It can be painful when you see your child struggle or lash out at you in anger of frustration. But that’s part of being a parent. Every time my son learns something new, so do I.

How do you handle your own anger? How do you help your child handle their’s?

I’ll be off next week for Memorial Day weekend fun with the family and will return following. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.