By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Talking honestly to kids can be hard even in the best of times.
These are not the best of times.
But in every challenge there is opportunity. The opportunity before parents and caregivers today is to have an open discussion with their children about race in this country.
This “teachable moment” demands compassion, a grasp of history and the willingness to do the work required to raise children who will lead with their heart on issues of race and equality in America.
“Sometimes our first reaction is to shelter and protect our children,” said Caitlin Krater, a music therapist at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. “But kids as young as 3 are so observant, and they are listening, so I think that as guardians of these kiddos we actually can empower them more by helping them understand.”
Even when it feels uncomfortable.
A great place to start is by acknowledging that there are people in the world who look different than you, she said. Celebrate that diversity with your kids through toys, books, music, movies, art and interaction.
In her work, Krater uses mindfulness principles to teach kids about emotions – how to notice them, feel them and allow them to fade.
“I think if we can help children understand emotions, they might be better able to understand and express how the things around them are affecting them,” she said.
MUSIC HELPS US HEAL
One of the primary tools at her disposal is making music. It is a mindful activity that requires a person to be fully present in the moment, she said.
“Music is also a powerful source of community, history and culture to come alive in our ears, hearts and minds. It is a great teacher and a great healer. We can look to music to help us learn about other people’s struggles, and we go to music to help us heal and give us rest.”
Krater emphasizes that the stress of watching traumatic events on television and on our phones lingers in our bodies and our minds. As caregivers, she said, we must take care of ourselves in whatever ways work best – exercise, meditation, music, prayer, reading or connecting with friends.
She suggests looking at the challenge before us as a relay race of sorts – a tag team marathon. When you get weary, let someone else pick up the baton. Restore your energy, then step back into the race.
“It’s so important now to be really mindful of taking time to rest, taking time away from the struggle – no matter if you are on the front lines or if you are watching online. Music can be your place of rest."
Her work at Riley takes her primarily to the cancer center and the burn unit, where even though her young patients are going through something really difficult health-wise, they also are dealing with what’s happening out in the world, she said.
“I help them by listening to their experience and helping them understand a little bit of the historical context of all of this. Then I bring it back to what they can do, what’s in their control,” she said.
“My role is to help them process and manage their feelings, whether it’s grief or anger or sadness, and to help them understand how those feelings might contribute to their stress levels and their emotional state.”
“KIDS ARE THE BEST TEACHERS”
Riley chaplain Josh Coolman agrees that it’s important to acknowledge and validate the emotions kids are experiencing.
“Children see and hear and are affected by everything that happens around them. Whether we can see that or not, it’s happening,” he said. “To be silent is to not address the issues.”
He borrows a quote from American novelist and activist James Baldwin to make his point:
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Children can teach us a thing or two about being good humans, both Coolman and Krater say.
“Kids are the best teachers because they can look at a situation almost unbiased, depending on their age, and they can show us how to lead with curiosity,” Krater said. “Children ask a lot of questions, and I think as adults we forget that it’s OK to not know all the answers and to be curious and to ask questions.”
We should be asking questions of our kids as well, Coolman said. It’s important to check in with them to see how they are feeling and see where those conversations lead.
“Because children will always surprise us with questions and insights that we don’t have,” he said. “Being able to open a conversation with a young person is going to help us see things in a different way.”
As a man guided by faith, Coolman prays for a renewed sense of hope and healing for a nation struggling to come to terms with its past and present. He looks to children to help lead the way, for they aren’t born with hate in their heart, he said.
“When I see children who don’t have that taught response, it’s an image of the world that could be, the friendship and the unity that could be.”
Here are links to resources that might help:
- Collective Grief & Healing: Nap Ministry
- Looking for Excellent “Diverse” Books for Children? Start Here!
- Your Age-by-Age Guide to Talking About Race
Finding peace while pushing for progress amid civil unrest- Addressing systemic racial inequality requires listening without judging and turning privilege into courage by standing up for others.