Race: Talking to Your Children

Global headlines are currently dominated by race – the death of George Floyd but also the death of Collins Khosa and ten others who died during the initial months of South Africa’s lockdown have all led to a greater awareness of racial injustice. Conversations seem to finally be happening, and they need to continue to happen. These conversations are ones that happen often around Arise’s conference table, and if you have ever attended an Arise workshop addressing Race, Identity and Transracial Adoption, the following should be familiar:

Raising children in a race conscious world requires conscious thought and deliberate action on the part of parents.

All children live in a race conscious world and while we might prefer that social constructs such as race and money weren’t things we needed to discuss, they certainly are.  As parents or caregivers, it’s our role to prepare our children to face the world. If we are not being deliberate in this, we are not equipping or empowering our children, regardless of their position or status, to navigate the world.   

How often do we hear that children don’t see race?  Let’s see what the research has shown us regarding young children and race:

  • Children around 3 months of age look more to the faces that match their caregivers than those who are different.
  • Children as young as 2 are seen to start using race to rationalize people’s behaviours.
  • At the age of 3, it’s been noted that children use race to choose play mates.
  • Racial prejudice and bias becomes overt at ages 4 & 5.
  • Between ages 5 & 6 children are seen to hold the same racial attitudes and perceptions as the adults who are in their world.
  • Explicit conversations regarding race, as well as inter-racial friendships, have the power to shift understanding and attitudes very quickly, in as little time as a week for children between the ages of 5 – 7.

Children most definitely see race – they might use different language or wording, but as the above shows us, as adults we have a significant role to play in how our children internalize and respond to race. The research repeatedly states that explicit conversations and using correct language matters when talking to children. One of the biggest obstacles in this is an adults’ own comfort with talking about race. As a parent it might be important to reflect on what we are comfortable discussing or not comfortable discussing and why – if we don’t do this, we then communicate the discomfort to our children. A second obstacle we have noticed at Arise is the fact that so much of our history is either unknown or there is uncertainty about how to talk to children about the history that has shaped us as South Africa. Books, like the Story of Mandela for Children, or How Many Ways Can You Say Hello? can help introduce the conversation. 

So we know that talking about race matters, and that talking about what we are seeing around us matters, but what does this all mean practically?  Research studies have shown that even with the conversations and dialogues being facilitated by parents, children are better able to integrate understanding when their worlds are diverse AND inclusive.  Talking on its own is not enough.

Children whose worlds are racially homogenous tend to develop bias towards their own racial group. Children’s world views and the views they carry into adulthood are shaped by their social environment. If we want to work towards a pluralistic society where diversity is embraced and affirmed, it matters that we consider who children are exposed to and where:  Who do they socialize with, go to school with, play and see in positions of authority? Who do you invite to spend time in your home and whose homes do you spend time in? 

Children learn and acquire knowledge and skills best through play – so do we. What toys and superheroes are our children exposed to?  What books are we reading and who are the leads or the ‘good guys’? What messages are your children getting in the books that they are reading about people? There are so many great resources for toys, books, crayons and plasters now that weren’t available even five years ago!  These can all assist in doing the work of talking to children about race. 

Arise is committed to ensuring that all families thrive, regardless of where they are. We see the impact of our country’s legacy as well as the ongoing injustices and in the words of a teen one of our social workers’ supported this week, “We enter and leave the world the same way – the colour of my skin should not determine how I am treated and yet it does. We need to get our lives in order to change the way our world looks”

Let’s start getting the world in order and create platforms for our children to anchor on so that they can engage with confidence, confidence to learn from and listen, as well as speak up and speak out so that the way the world looks can change.

Children, COVID-19 and Consequences – A Reflection in Child Protection Month

We have all been impacted by this pandemic. For some of us it is the burden of working from home while managing crisis schooling, for others it is the worry over lost income and businesses we’ve built up over years. Our frontline families face uncertainty and anxiety as they wait for the approaching wave of patients while for others it is their very physical health that is at stake. We are all in a storm, paddling furiously to keep our heads above the water. We acknowledge this but we know too that we are not all in the same boat.  Our work at Arise as well as continuous ground level research shows us that this pandemic is set to have long-term consequences particularly for the children in our marginalised communities.


Finding the Opportunity in the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has done what all crises do – it’s stripped away many of the masks or veils that existed in day-to-day spaces.  It has magnified the strengths, opportunities and challenges that exist within our personal spaces, as well as in our communities – regardless of whether our community is well-resourced or struggling in this time. The Chinese word for crisis is often cited in motivational speaking: it’s made up of two characters, Wei which means danger and Ji which means opportunity. Both are playing out in this pandemic.    


How to Breathe Out While in Lockdown

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We often remind each other to breathe in during times of stress and anxiety. What we forget to check is whether we are breathing out as well.  Breathing out is important. Without releasing our breath, we can’t take in fresh air, we can’t move, and our bodies remain stressed and anxious, making It harder to think creatively or solve problems. When we are managing laundry, deadlines, children, meal plans and mess, we can lose touch and forget to breathe out!  This has never been truer than in our current state of lockdown.


Family Forum: Where Heartaches and Hope Meet Over a Cup of Tea

Parenting is said to be one of the most rewarding parts of being in family. It’s also one of the hardest parts of being in family. Our children are growing up with challenges and dynamics that none of us had to face. When we combine that with the social and economic challenges, being a parent can feel totally overwhelming. Especially when we are being asked to do things differently to what we know.


Whose Child is Next? An Open Letter to Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear Mr. President,

Why are you so silent? Is the senseless murder of the young Tazne Van Wyk just another South African statistic? How many children and women must die such violent and senseless deaths for the government to wake up and say, “We have to protect the most vulnerable in our society.” Our children are the future and yet they are growing up scared and traumatised, living inside their homes as it isn’t safe to play cricket or soccer outside in the streets. They’re too scared to go and buy a packet of Niknaks because someone could take them and they may never be seen again. The pain we cry as a nation is, “Whose child is next?”

Yes, we are angry! Yes, we are heartbroken! Yes, we demand that you – yes YOU, do more for our communities and our country. Do something instead of shouting in parliament about who is responsible for gender-based violence, a public platform where our young boys watch and see how men in power treat women. Stand up and be a role model. The chaos in parliament ripples into our schools, into our communities, into our homes and into the systems that are meant to protect our children.

Our statutory services are failing. As an organisation who works with children at-risk, children who are thrown out of school, roaming the streets or who are affected by abuse, we are tired of struggling to fight the systems that are in place. As social workers, psychologists and other professionals we struggle to report abuse to police officers, and see first hand how nothing happens to perpetrators of child abuse in our communities.  We fight with police and with statutory child protection agencies to press child abuse charges and we are faced with laughter in our faces and phrases like “Ma’am, nothing is going to happen here…our prisons are so full already.”

You see, this shows our children that they don’t matter, that their voices don’t count. They are invisible in society and people who are put in place to protect them in fact can’t, and promises from adults are broken yet again. Our children are growing up angry, mistrusting and have learnt to keep quiet when abuse continues to happen in their homes, schools and communities because what hope do they have when they see no justice?

What makes us so angry is that Tazne’s Van Wyk’s murder, like so many others, was and is, preventable! Tazne Van Wyk’s killer was a perpetrator of child abuse previously and yet his light sentence and lack of follow-up by parole officers led to her murder. And who is accountable for this? No one, because this is only one case of the thousands of perpetrators who are out on parole and who are not accounted for.

Is there hope? Despite everything, we believe that there is. But for change, we don’t just need hope, we need action. We need government and civil society to work together to keep our children safe. We need heavier sentences for child abuse; we need perpetrators to be in restorative justice programmes; we need statutory workers to be held accountable for their lack of investigative work and we need child abuse cases to be taken seriously!

So while you stay silent, Mr President, our children’s bodies are piling up…and we ask ourselves “whose child is next?”

Written collectively by the Arise Staff Team


It’s Not My Story to Tell – How to Avoid Oversharing as an Adoptive Parent

Imagine something that is private for you – it might be something that is sacred, something that is painful or something that is complicated and not yet resolved. You choose to share this private story, in confidence with someone else. It’s something that has been shared with the other person with the understanding that they will safeguard it for you. You might speak about it, you might be very selective about who you share this with or you might realize that there are parts you feel free to share and others you don’t.


Strong Families, Strong Communities

What is family in South Africa?

Not all families look the same.  International research shows that our country is unique by the extent in which parents are absent from their children’s daily lives. Recent studies have shown that over 20% of South African children do not live with both biological parents and up to 57% of children have absent fathers. Many of our families consist of female-headed households, child-headed households, and combinations of families with aunts, uncles and their children all living together.