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Parenting Children for Christian Interracial Friendships

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

Since June, 2010, Willie and Elaine Oliver have been directors of the Department of Family Ministries for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The rest of this Blog is quoted from an article they wrote called, “Parenting Children For Christian Interracial Friendships.”

Discussions about race are difficult for most adults and even more difficult to talk about with children. Yet, Christian parents must find ways to discuss this important topic with their children as they’re growing up …

From a very early age, children tend to learn about racial differences and racial bias from their first teachers—their parents—and how to deal with and react to these differences …

As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain is able to detect race-based differences.

By ages 2 to 4, children are able to internalize racial bias.

By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to shape the learning process so that it diminishes racial bias and increases cultural understanding.

Three highly important strategies parents may employ to help their children deal with racial bias are:

1. Talk to your children and acknowledge that racial distinctions and bias exist.

2. Confront your own bias and model how you want your children to behave in response to others who may be different from they are.

3. Encourage your children to challenge racial stereotypes and racial bias by being kind and compassionate when communicating with people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.

… Children of almost every age are hearing about what is taking place in the society around them. Chances are they are overhearing adult conversations, watching footage of a video on YouTube, or watching news coverage of peaceful and violent protests. It’s safe to assume they may feel afraid for their own safety or their family’s safety. They might have questions about what the protests mean, why people have been killed by police, and whether they are safe.

When you talk to your children, keep the following points in mind:

Check in with your child. You may want to ask your children what they know, what they’ve seen, and how they’re feeling. Tell them you understand how they may be feeling and validate the feelings and emotions they may be experiencing. You know your children best and what information they can handle.

When dealing with younger children, take the time to patiently share with them what you’re doing to keep your family safe. When dealing with pre-teens and older children, ask if they’ve ever experienced ill-treatment or racism, or if they’ve experienced it happening to someone else.

Watch for changes in your child’s behaviour. Some children may become more hostile, while others may become inhibited or fearful. If you’re concerned that your child may be having a difficult time with anxiety, fear, or distress, call your pediatrician or mental health provider for added support.

Limit what your child sees in the media. Avoid leaving the TV on in the background. With older children and teens, you should watch with them and talk together about what you’re seeing. Give careful attention to their observations, and share your own perspective on what’s taking place. Use commercial breaks or pause the video to have brief discussions about what you’re watching or have just witnessed on TV. With younger children, limit TV watching and smartphone or tablet use, especially when the news is on. Make sure that whatever media they are consuming is occurring in the common areas of your home where you can easily and readily check on them.

Be aware of your own emotions. As an adult it’s vital to tune into how you’re feeling and ensure that you’re OK. If you’re not doing well or are unable to cope, ask for help to deal with the trauma and emotional shock the events and images may be having on you. Also, make a list of your own coping strategies, and when you need to employ them, check with your list.

Use this teachable moment. This is a good opportunity for families of every race to discuss the history of racism and discrimination in the country they’re living in and decide as a family how they may get involved to be agents of change in their society.

Take advantage of the right resources—good resources can help. If you find yourself having difficulty finding the right words to share with your children during these times, don’t be afraid to use good books or other resources that might help you communicate effectively about this topic with your children.

Christian parents working through the power and grace of God to raise their children for healthy interracial relationships may become the catalyst for transformation in our homes, churches, and institutions. Such a reality will create spaces filled with harmony, reconciliation, and peace branded by the inestimable and unshakable love of God.

This is our prayer for every family who sincerely wants to represent Jesus Christ.

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