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#AskAlyson: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Violence, Racism and Charlottesville?

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Hi Alyson, 
I am turning to you for help on how to handle the issues my kids are seeing on the news about Charlottesville and racism.  I have twin 6 year old boys and have no clue where to start on topic as big as racism and violence. Anything you can suggest would be SO appreciated.



Dear Serena,

When tough news like the violent protests and riots in Charlottesville take over the media, parents are left wondering: how do we best handle discussing the events with our children? This is a tough question to answer because there are so many variables we must consider. Factors include the ages of the child, their emotional maturity, the proximity to the incident and the child’s community, the family’s direct involvement with the incident, the child’s interests or worries about the news event and so on.


However, certain basic rules apply to all tragic events and all children. I have written about this before, but it is always good to take a quick recap of what you’ll need to know in the moment:


  1. Never lie.
  2. Re-assure a child of their own safety.
  3. Act calm yourself – your attitude is infectious.
  4. Share only the information that is needed.
  5. Highlight the good behaviours of community members and responders who came to help.
  6. Listen carefully and clear up any of the child’s misunderstandings.
  7. Find ways to take action and be helpful (send cards, mark a spot with flowers, donate to a charity, send supplies etc).


In the specific case of Charlottesville however, we also have to understand how to talk to kids about racism. That topic can feel very overwhelming to parents. Where to begin? Are we putting ideas in their innocent heads they never thought of before? Will discussing racism bring race into their consciousness in a new and potentially bad way?


The answer is no.


We used to worry that if we talked to our kids about sex they would start being sexually active. That proved to be wrong. In fact, sex education delays the age of first sexual experiences and reduces teen pregnancy.


Likewise – we need to engage in a nationwide conversation about racism with all age groups at this critical time in history.


For younger children, parents and educators can rely on children books.  Here is a list from the New York Times for your consideration.


For older children, its best to engage in discussion such as the historic antagonistic views of the white slave owners of the south and abolitionists from the north. Ask lots of questions and hear their thoughts and opinions. Have they ever made a quick assessment of someone based on their looks, only to discover they were wrong? Why do they think these issues continue today in our multicultural society? Are any of their friends racists? How did they come to be racist? What do they do when their friends make racist remarks in front of them? Do they speak up? Help your child to craft a response that they can use to show their friend that such comments and not ok.


Reflect on the quote from Nelson Mandela which Obama tweeted during the events of Charlottesville:


“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Obama quoted.


With Mandela in mind, I challenge every parent today to think about how our children are learning about differences and tolerance in your own homes. Do you model loving kindness not only to your friends, but also to those whom you perhaps dislike? What rigid ideologies, differences of opinions, or conflicting values cause tension and fighting in your family life?


There has to be a positive teachable moment from the horrid event of Charlottesville. Let’s not let the moment pass. Resist and take positive peaceful action.


Here is a link to 60 resources and activities by age group to help you get started.



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