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How to Talk to your Kids about Racism - KaZa's Response to Recent Events
Like many other businesses, KaZa had to halt its services on March 13th as the country came together to respond to a life-threatening virus. KaZa is now at a crossroads as we relocate our business to 2069 Danforth Avenue (Danforth and Woodbine) and shift our focus to providing individual and family therapy and assessment services.
Amid all these events, we were recently faced with even more uncertainty and upheaval: the recent death of George Floyd in the U.S. becoming the tipping point for people around the world. Once again, we find ourselves coming together to respond to another life-threatening issue for many people in our country; the reality that racism continues to plague the daily lives of many black people in Canada and our communities regardless of socioeconomic status, education, gender, and even age. Where we go from here largely depends on what we choose to do individually and collectively.
As parents, allies, and members of our community who reject racial inequities, you may be left wondering what to do, how, and when to talk to your children about race. Here are 5 suggestions to consider as you embark on this journey:
Start by checking your bias; aligning yourself with racist ideologies does not imply being free of racial biases. We all have the capacity to absorb biases from the world around us.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Talking about racism can feel like unfamiliar territory to many and can make want to focus on distancing yourself from the “bad apples”. Do not let that discourage you from continuing the conversation.
Normalize the conversation. Do not opt for one big talk. In this case, quantity is especially important. Create a space in which your children feel comfortable and safe to bring forth their questions without hesitation.
Action speaks louder than words (so does representation). How diverse is your child’s environment? Does your child have books in which the main character is black? Are the TV shows they watch racially diverse? Do you actively ensure that they have an opportunity to see people of colour in leading positions whenever possible (your family doctor, optician, dentist, sports coaches, etc.)? Watch out for racial stereotypes that they are bombarded with from unfiltered social media outlets.
To help children oppose racial discrimination, teach them to “see colour”. Children will benefit from understanding that, for some, the colour of their skin has created levels of privilege that are a reality in today’s world. Their black peers have to work much harder to be considered for the same basic privileges. Not “seeing colour” is akin to denying their peers’ their daily lived struggles. Everyone benefits from embracing similarities and understanding differences.
While we are currently in transition and not yet available to support you and your families in person, we continue to do so through virtual sessions. Please let us know if we can be of support to you or any of your family members during these challenging times. Stay safe!
Mental Health and COVID-19: An FAQ for Caregivers
Created March 18, 2020 by Dr. Julia van der Werf, Psychologist*
Q: How do I talk to my children about COVID-19?
It is important to support children on both emotional and practical levels.
First, validate! Let your child or children know that their feelings make sense and show it by giving at least three reasons. You know them better than anyone, so you can validate based on whatever suits them.
“Of course it makes sense if you’re feeling afraid right now. Your school has been closed and your favourite activities have been cancelled [reason 1]. You worry about one of us getting sick [reason 2], and perhaps you are scared of what will happen if you get sick yourself [reason 3]”
Second, provide emotional and practical support.
Emotional support might sound like “I am here for you. I’m on your team,” “we are doing what we can to stay healthy, and the best minds in the world are working to see us through this moment” and/or it may involve hugs, cuddles, etc.
Practical support may involve sticking to traditional routines as much as possible, making a schedule together, practicing safe and healthy outdoor activities, or engaging in any other activity that might help regulate emotions (distraction, a calming project or hobby, etc.).
Know that having a more harmonious household will likely be a direct reflection of your ability to remember what it was like to be your child’s age, and then to imagine what it is you would need if you were going through this moment.
Hint: Go from “but” to “because” (Example: Instead of “I get why you would feel mad that we can’t go on the vacation, but we’ll reschedule,” try “I get why you would feel mad that we can’t go on the vacation because you were really looking forward to the beach now, and because...”).
Hint: Practical support will likely involve redirection to something unrelated to COVID-19 or the current state of the world.
Q: What should I do about my own feelings?
Take care of yourself. There is no manual for this experience! While we all try to stay in the realm of concern rather than the realm of anxiety, be kind and forgiving to yourself, even when it is difficult to do so.
As hard as it may be, try not to beat yourself up for needing to prioritize your own mental health. Finding your own calm is the most important consideration when it comes to providing care for your child or children and other loved ones.
Consider this terrific quote from L.R. Knost: “when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.”
Q: What are some other tips to help my kids through this experience?
1. Kids are little sponges; they absorb more than what we given them credit for! Be mindful of the things you talk about, including work-related stress or the family’s financial future. Even if you think the kids are not in earshot or are sleeping, be particularly cautious about where and when you talk about these things.
2. Consider helping your kids document what this experience is like in some way: create a photo diary together, keep a journal, or use online ways of capturing their day-to-day experience.
3. You and your family may need some boundaries around how much exposure to the news you’re getting. Limit how much news you expose yourself and your family to. I recommend one check-in with a credible news source per day.
4. Be deliberate about “on-time and off-time” when it comes to talking about the virus or the current state of the world. If you are sensing yourself becoming unsettled or sense it in your loved ones, direct the conversation to something else: planning what activities to do tomorrow could be a good place to start, or relishing in some shared pleasant memories may help steer the conversation in a direction that everyone needs.
The included suggestions are for informational purposes only; please seek services within your community for personalized psychological support. For help in doing so, please feel free to contact me directly.
Note that most of the suggestions were taken directly from the work of Emotion- Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), care of Dr. Adele LaFrance. More EFFT can be found here:
*This resource was made with inspiration from Dr. Heather Prime, Dr. Nozomi Minowa, Natalia Manay, Melanie Joly, Dr. Anona Zimerman, and Elizabeth McEwen
This is just a sample of the terrific resources out there right now. This list is by no means an exhaustive and I am always happy to learn of resources that others find helpful.
Resources for explaining COVID-19 to kids:
Resources for boredom busters:
Resources for your own regulation and well-being:
Instagram: @the.holistic.psychologist @drstaceyschell
If you find yourself with extra time to devote to learning more about caregiving, here are some suggestions:
Mental Health Foundations
This website is full of great resources, including webinars.
The following Youtube clips aren't necessarily all directly related to caregiving but capture the essence of empathy:
(There are other great clips of Haim Ginott available, so if you find this one good, keep looking at his stuff)
Between Parent and Child (Haim Ginott)
Hold on to Your Kids (Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate)
The books listed on the Mental Health Foundations website (https://www.mentalhealthfoundations.ca/resources) are also all highly recommended