Parents, and especially white parents, have important work to embrace around being, and parenting, in anti-racist ways. Let’s start with two steps.
#1: Understand “anti-racism.”
I believe that most everyone in my life would describe themselves as “not racist.” If asked, they would disavow racist ideas and actions. However, as I have learned embarrassingly recently, it is not enough to just be “not racist.” We have to learn how to be, and actually practice being, “anti-racist.”
Racism is a machine. A machine that influences thoughts, actions, and results. Where white people are concerned, it generally works behind the scenes, and to our benefit.
I’ve thought of myself as “not racist” my whole life, but at the same time, I was benefitting from that racist machine. I didn’t create or feed that machine, but, -and this part is important: I never used to do anything to dismantle that machine, either. (*The killer realization? Realizing that I had worked to dismantle other machines—like sexism—but the one that benefitted me, I left alone.)
If you say you “aren’t racist,” and you want to live according to your values, you must work to dismantle the racist machine. This is what being “anti-racist” means.
#2: Talk to Your Kids.
When the lessons are really important, parents teach things proactively. (eg: safety) We need to add teaching about racism to that list. We must educate our white children about racism, how white supremacy works, and ways they can help dismantle the machine. We need to speak openly about skin color and institutionalized racism in this country. We need history lessons, values-based lessons, and concrete examples in their current lives.
I bet many of you have had conversations with your kids about things like strangers, approaching houses on Halloween, looking both ways, not climbing on the fence at zoos and the Grand Canyon, etc. Parents of older kids have probably talked about vaping and dark alleys and parking lots and parties with alcohol. We do that because we believe it will help keep our kids safe. It’s (past) time white parents took the same approach to parenting about race.
Our country is literally on fire today, and no conversation around tonight’s dinner table is going to fix that. But… what if we each had a hundred conversations over the next hundred days?
What anti-racist conversation can you start at dinner tonight?
Anti-Racist Conversation Ideas (aka Lessons to Share)
- Policing issues. White kids should know that black parents sit their children down and have “the talk” with them about what to do if/when they interact with police. Why isn’t that a thing in white families? Why do white families generally think of the police as public servants, heroes even, whose job it is to serve and protect, but black families generally have a different relationship with the police? Note: I do not recommend showing the George Floyd video to kids. Watching a real murder is (or should be) traumatic. Trauma doesn’t facilitate learning and growth.
- Black Lives Matter. Where did this phrase come from? Why is it offensive to instead say “All Lives Matter”?
- The tendency of White people to use calling the police as their personal enforcer when they are displeased about what someone Black is doing. (IE, BBQ Becky, Amy Cooper, Permit Patty) (If you want to go really deep—maybe with a teenager—see if you can connect this type of citizen-enforcement behavior with colonialism.) By the way, I think the Amy Cooper/Central Park a great video to show to kids, because it’s obvious racism, weaponizing white privilege, and it’s not graphic violence.
- White women as a group are known to inappropriately touch black strangers’ hair. See if you can help your child imagine a parallel between bodily boundary crossing today and slavery past.
- What are your child’s school mascots? Are they people? Why is that wrong?
- Who was the real “Jim Crow;” what’s the history there, drawing a clear line from that to why blackface is not okay.
- What was “red-lining” Does it impact your current neighborhood today? Connect red-lining and property values and acquiring inter-generational wealth.
- Does your town (or school district) have streets, buildings or statues that honor Confederate War Heroes? Were they named or erected in response to the civil rights movement?
- “I don’t see color.” What’s wrong with that phrase?
- Why is wearing a Native American headdress offensive? (similarly, the inappropriateness of wearing another culture’s traditional dress for Halloween)
- What is “voter suppression?” Consider pulling up an old “Literacy test.” My home state of Louisiana used this one—which was to be completed in 10 minutes, and one wrong answer meant the test-taker would fail. https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/aale/pdfs/Voter%20Test%20LA.pdf
- What is a “Micro-aggression?” Can your child think of any racial microaggressions they have witnessed?
- What is a “Micro-invalidation”? Has your child ever seen a teacher avoid calling the name of a child when that name looked “foreign?”
- Is there a history of white people avoiding responsibility by claiming innocent intent? Can a poor response to being told that we’ve offended make things even worse? Whose experience should be focused on?
This is all only a start. There’s more work to be done than just conversations, but we can at least start here.
Last note: I did a parenting webinar called “Talking with Kids about Race” a year or so ago with a friend and colleague: Jeffrey Swan. The webinar is now free to watch. Please do go check it out.
Taking Charge of ADHD by Russell Barkley
Super-parenting for ADD by Edward Hallowell. (He also has a podcast with about a million episodes. Free and easy to access!)
Late, Lost, and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn & Laurie Dietzel
This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation if you click the links and then buy. (and if you do, thanks!)
There are several articles, a video, and a webinar on this blog, created specifically to help parents through the divorce process. They are collected below for easy access.
- How to tell the kids
- When to tell the kids
- 7 Things kids want parents to remember
- Book recommendations about divorce for kids
- Book recommendations about divorce for parents
- When parents start dating again
- Divorce & Teens (video)
- How to tell your kids you are separating or divorcing (online class)
Please feel free to email me with questions or to set up an appointment for parent coaching around divorce, co-parenting, or however you think I can help.
Note: This was originally published in 2012, but every time I add to this, I repost it with the current date, just to make it a little easier for myself & others to find the post again!
It’s late January, and the outside temperature at 6:30 this morning was in the 30s. Our thermostat inside says the house is 71 degrees, but even I didn’t think that getting out from under the covers sounded like a good idea this morning. My kids? They were even less interested in getting up, getting ready, and going outside to go to school. Mornings are such a hard sell, especially on school days, especially when it’s cold & dark, especially when we didn’t go to bed on time the night before. Just, yuck.
My clients often talk about the stress they feel related to getting out the door on time on weekdays. There is so much that needs to be done, the timeline is usually tight, it’s a “pinch point” in a family’s day that often leads to stress, conflict, and bad feelings. (not to mention tardy slips.)
There are a few really effective and good-feeling tools at improving this daily routine that I’ve discovered over the years, and I’d like to share them with you. Join me for a FREE and short webinar where I’ll share parenting hacks for getting your kids awake, up, moving, and out the door… with 57% less* unhappiness.
Wednesday, January 30, 12 noon.
(*) I made that number up. The hacks are good ones, though. :^)
Don’t try this one:
Imagine that we can plot a tantrum on a graph…
The “y-axis” is “level of tantrum” and the “x-axis” is “time.” The tantrum shape is a bell curve, divided into stages. The first stage: there’s no tantrum, but then there’s some sort of trigger, after which behavior begins to worsen. It escalates to its worst level (dysregulation zone) and after time begins to reduce, eventually coming back to ‘zero.’
The place where parents are most motivated to intervene in their child’s behavior?
That top (orange) area.
The place where interventions are LEAST likely to do any good?
Also that top (orange) area. (Aha.)
Flip the illustration over (or look at the bottom half) and you’ll see the bell curve shape reproduced, with 5 differently colored columns. These columns coordinate with the stages of the tantrum, and include advice on best techniques for managing behaviors during that phase.
Parents, this is a cheat-sheet! A short-cut to understanding and better responding to behavior. Use this to pick effective interventions based on your child’s brain functioning at any given moment.
To say it another way–this helps make sense of your child’s tantrums, explains why some things you do just make things worse, and gives a parent guidance for what TO do instead.
This is the concept that parents, over and over, have told me has been most helpful for them, in understanding and managing behavior.
(PS. “Tantrums” aren’t just for toddlers! Teenagers and you and me–we all have a version of tantrums, too!)
Want more? There are lots of resources for parents on this website related to the concept “The Arc of the Tantrum.” Here’s a list:
- The **Webinar**! This blog post is a ton of information, striped down to its most basic level, but the webinar gives you a chance to hear the concepts explained more thoroughly, with more examples and details that make it easier to understand and implement. Our brains typically need to interact with information more than however long you spend on this page to be able to use that information. Give yourself the gift of more support! Join us live or watch the replay anytime.
- The Arc of the Tantrum infographic as a PDF file. This is the better file for printing. Put it on your fridge! Give it to a friend or a teacher.
- The Arc of the Tantrum 3 minute sampler video
- “Are you going to let her get away with that?” blog post
- The Kids who Need the Most Love will ask for it in the most Unloving Ways
My 7 year old asked me this question not too long ago. It took me a minute to understand what she was saying—her pronunciation was ‘creative,’ plus the topic took me by surprise. But once I figured it out, I was both sad and grateful to her for asking the question.
I told her that yes, I had seen segregation as a child. I grew up in rural Louisiana, which in the 80s was very segregated. I told her my strongest childhood memory of segregation—how the doctor’s office that we went to had two waiting rooms, but patients separated by race instead of sick & well. Sadly, I had many more stories of segregated spaces to share: my high school lunch room, every church I’ve ever been in, and every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.
Like most of the white progressive families I know, my unconscious default is to not talk about race. I was certainly brought up to believe that doing so is extremely impolite. It’s really only in the last few years that I’ve begun to challenge that for myself and with my family. As I see it now, though, it’s not impolite, it is crucial.
Research over the years has demonstrated clearly that even very young children notice racial differences, and all humans are susceptible to what’s known as “in group bias.” In-group bias is that hard-wired tendency to prefer people who are like us in some way, and to make decisions and value judgements based on whether someone is in our group or not. I think these two findings make a very, very strong case for the importance of talking with kids about race.
So how do you do that?
Well, sometimes your kid makes it easy and asks a question, or, less comfortably, you might also hear your child saying something that reflects bias. Either of those two situations is a perfect “talkable” moment for conversation. You can prompt good conversations, too—using daily life situations to point out issues related to race and social justice. For example, when you spot (or suspect) white privilege moments, observed segregation, or stereotypes in the media.
It’s also important for parents (especially white parents) to do their own work here. How can/should we grow personally in our own awareness of (and work against) racial injustice? How segregated is your daily life? Can you change that? Watch your inner voice and reactions through a racial filter—can you catch yourself (even inadvertently) revisiting old racist stereotypes? Can you self-talk out of some of those reactions?
The thing I keep coming back to is the reminder that we DO need to talk about race with our kids. We need to help our kids be aware that racism is both “out there” and “in here.” We need to expand our relationships and experiences to include increasing diversity. We need to role model and encourage empathy and critical thinking, and the kind of moral development that is always working towards equality and justice.
We can and should do this work.
If you’re interested in learning more about talking with kids about race, including what sorts of conversation and lessons are appropriate for which ages, consider joining the webinar I’m co-presenting this Friday.
Think of a time recently when your child was upset, maybe really upset. What he was upset about wasn’t a major life loss, or a safety issue. Rather, he was just very displeased about something, for example, he wanted the green one instead of the yellow one. Or he was really excited about going to the museum but you just found out that it’s closed. Or you promised to bring him something from your trip but you sadly forgot. Really, the situations that can cause upset are limitless—the key component is that your child is upset, and you’ve tried and been unsuccessful at talking things through. You may or may not care deeply about your child’s complaint, but you definitely care about them, and you have tried to help them calm down, but your reason, logic, reassurance, perspective or compromise offerings haven’t been successful. So what’s left?
60-40-0. Use this equation as a guide for how you are going to interact for the next few minutes. (*) Take a deep breath (always a good idea in most any parenting situation) and begin to nonverbally send a message that 60% of your energy is compassion. Allow your body to slump a little. Put a compassionate expression on your face. Mine includes knitting my eyebrows together and poking my lips out a little with a slight downturn—but you do what’s normal for you. It’s generally better not to speak, but if you must, make little noncommittal mmm-mmms and the like. I often find that I tip my head to one side and nod as well. Spend a moment channeling compassion towards your child for the emotions that they are feeling.
After the first few seconds of channeling compassion, make sure that your non-verbal communication demonstrates that 40% of your energy is… bored. Yes, bored. You’re mostly compassionate, but really, you are also pretty bored with this tantrum, these behaviors, this fit… the Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka meme above isn’t quite perfect, but hopefully you get the drift. Your level of interest in the fit starts to decrease steadily. To be clear, don’t express snark, provocation, or teasing, as those will totally backfire. Just… don’t be super interested.
And the last bit of your energy—precisely 0%, is “not getting sucked in.” Your child is having this tantrum. It’s his. The feelings that provoked the tantrum? Also his. You have tried to help him, but he wasn’t ready or able to accept the help. So… your job is to be compassionately present, while not letting his feelings nor his management of those feelings trigger you to react with your own emotions. (**)
* If the tantrums are not measured in minutes, please consider individualized advice from a professional—an article isn’t enough support.
** It’s okay to move in and out of “presence,” too, for example after a couple of minutes you might say “I can tell you are really feeling upset about this. I’m sorry it’s so hard. I’m going to step out of here for a minute but will come back to check on you shortly.”
Although Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift is a most uncomfortable read, I recommend it to parents whenever discussions of child safety come up. One of the many practical pieces of advice is how to tell when your child is ready to be left alone–ready to play a major role in assuring their own safety. Can you answer yes to all of the questions below?
The Test of Twelve
- Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that’s an important signal.
- Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant?
- Does your child know it’s okay to rebuff and defy adults?
- Does your child know it’s okay to be assertive?
- Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help?
- Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him.
- Does your child know how to describe his peril?
- Does your child know it’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you’ll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid?
- Does your child know it’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run?
- Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ”This is not my father”? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent.
- Does your child know that if someone says, ”Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ”Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell.
- Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him?
Like ice cream comes in different flavors, I, too, come in different versions of myself.
When I have slept well and enough, eaten healthfully, gotten exercise and happy time with loved ones, and don’t have big worries hanging over my head, I am generally a good version of myself. I’m more patient and peaceful, I laugh more, care less about small stuff, and am more generous with myself and those around me.
However, when those conditions aren’t met, I am more likely to be the grouchy version, or the inflexible version, or the anxious version of myself. Those traits (grouchiness, inflexibility, anxiety) are always in me, but when I am at my best, they just don’t show up in quantities that are a problem. But when I’m not at my best, my unique human imperfections are more evident, more frequent, and more annoying to those around me (so I’m told. ;^) )
Each of us has a unique set of human imperfections, but the size and severity of those traits are always affected by our overall wellness. For this reason, when parents focus on their child’s problem behaviors, it is sometimes more helpful to steer them towards ways to help that child be the best possible version of themselves.
If you have noticed that your child is exhibiting more unwanted traits lately, start addressing the problem by focusing on general well-being first. How is sleep? Healthy foods, exercise, drinking water? Would they benefit from some extra connection time with you? How is school? What might be stressing your child out? Are they sad or worried about something?
If we can reduce the stressors (whether physical, situational, relational, or psychological) we’ll also likely trigger the happy side effect of reducing the unwanted behaviors. So the next time you aren’t pleased with certain behaviors, remind yourself to also focus on increasing your child’s overall wellness. Bringing out the best version of your child (or yourself) is a wonderful way to get back to the smoother, happier path.
The Arc of the Tantrum video has been hugely popular, so I’ve made another one. This one is on a topic I speak about in various ways all the time: Behavior is Communication. Click below for 2 minutes and 38 seconds’ worth of coaching on understanding your child’s misbehavior. (and see directly below for a rudimentary transcript.)
Behavior is Communication, notes from the video:
- Imagine that your child’s misbehavior is a misguided attempt at fulfilling an unmet need.
- A few examples of typical unmet needs: power, attention, overwhelm, intense engagement. (Intense engagement: that extra level of attention children need from us, and they can get it from us in positive or negative ways, ie: “OH! I’m SO proud of you!” versus “WHAT are you DOING!?”) They want the positive intensity, and of course it’s healthier, but they will settle for the negative because kids desperately need doses of that intensity from their parents.
- We can learn to translate our kids’ misbehavior—translate what you see them doing, and see if you can identify what the unmet need is that drives that behavior—what’s underneath it, behind it, driving that misbehavior. This frees you up to respond to the need behind the misbehavior, instead of simply reacting to that behavior.
- When parents can identify the unmet need, we can (a) help them get their needs met better, and (b) minimize the unwanted behavior without having to resort to control or punishment techniques, which makes the parent-child relationship a little easier, smoother, and better.
- So that’s that: behavior as communication: learn to translate your child’s behaviors, identify potential unmet needs, and respond to those needs instead of the (symptomatic) behavior.