How to Discuss Slavery with your Kids

February 25, 2013 in Black History Month,family,kids,slavery

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During Black History Month, we reflect on the lessons and discussions we’ve had with our kids. Have we hit on all of the Black inventors? How about the Civil Rights activists? But, the one conversation that seems to take the back burner every year is the talk about slavery.

While talking with online friends Dresden and A’Driane, we all agreed on how difficult it is to explain this crime on the human race to our young children. With my son, we’d talked to him in detail about it years before, but I was struggling with expanding the story since he’s of an age where details are important. After thinking long and hard about this, I’ve come up with some ways that you, as a responsible parent, can discuss slavery with your kids.

Expand the “Stranger Danger” Discussion
If you child is old enough to understand the idea of “stranger danger,” than they’re old enough to understand the basic concept of slavery. In the most simple terms, you can compare slavery and the Middle Passage to being approached and taken by a stranger, away from your home and family, to a new and strange place. Now, this in no way tells the whole story of this important part of African American history, but it gets the conversation started and puts them in the mind set of understanding the trivial parts.

The Work and Well-being of Slaves
We all know that slaves were viewed as sub-human savages, forced to work against their will, and beaten if they objected, but these lessons are too harsh to explain to a young child. One way A’Driane opened up the dialogue with her oldest son was by explaining that Slaves were forced to do very hard jobs, all day every day, without being paid. Children of most ages understand the idea of working for money, for shelter, etc, so the idea of forcing someone to work without some type of monetary compensation will be easy to relay to them. Once they understand that idea and want you to elaborate on it, a solid and informative dialogue can begin.

For Older Children, Analyze Present Day Slavery
When it comes to my son, he’s been taught the full lesson of slavery, parts of the Civil War and we’ve even touched on The Restoration. This year, my struggle was continuing the conversation. I’d decided to discuss with him the crime of Human Trafficking as an example of how slavery is still going on today. We’ve only touched on the topic, but he’s intrigued enough to want to learn more about it, which sets us up for discussions the rest of the year, as well as February of next year.

Use books
This might be the easiest way to open a dialogue with your children without bombarding them with too much information. Fortunately for us, there are quite a few books that are geared towards explaining slavery to children.  Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family (Aladdin Picture Books) is a great book that’s an easy read for children ages 4 and up. It follows a woman who was taken from Africa and ends up raising her own family on a plantation in America. It’s full of pictures so this a great beginning to your child’s journey towards learning about slavery.

If You Lived When There Was Slavery In Americais part of the very informative “If You Lived” History series that we used in grade school and is now peppered in all the the greatest libraries. The best part of this book is that they address lots of questions that children might bring up, so it ends up being a reference book for both kids and their parents.

While this in no way fully explains how deep you can get when you discuss slavery with your kids, I hope that it helped you in some way. If you’ve created ways to explain Slavery to your children, or children you know, please share with us in the comments below.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelsey February 25, 2013 at 2:32 pm

That would be a hard conversation to know how to explain it, this is a great post and very helpful!!

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Randa Derkson February 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm

That’s a hard topic to cover. I think telling the truth always works best.

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Joyce@MommyTalkShow.com February 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Thanks for recommending those books.
I haven’t tackled the subject of any form of discrimination with our son yet since he’s about to turn 3.
He thinks everyone he knows has brown skin, even his white teachers.
I think it’s important for parents to explain slavery to children since schools may offer a different viewpoint.

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Mariah @ FormulaMom.com February 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

These are great tips! It’s definitely something for kids to gain a historical and present day knowledge of as they grow up.

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Erinn Sluka February 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I never thought to have that discussion young. Sounds comprehensible

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Alex M February 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Our home used to be on the underground railroad. The entire back wall of our bedroom is a false wall which was accessed by the closet. We told our family about this and were surprised to find when one of the kids stayed with us, that he couldn’t sleep at night. He had nightmares about slaves being pursued. We tried to explain that our house should be considered a safe and happy place because it was the last stop before the end of their journey — we are on the Canadian border.

My question for you is this. Our hidey-hole is boarded up and filled with insulation. If we took it down, we’d gain at least 20 square feet in our bedroom. Would you do that or would you respect the past and keep it up? It would mean a lot to know how someone who has personal feelings about slavery would look at this.

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Val February 25, 2013 at 3:42 pm

This is so true, especially what you posted about the present day slavery of Human Trafficking. There are ways that we can insure that our kids know the past to equip them to not allow these things to happen again.

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lovedesignlife February 25, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I really like this article. Lots of great information and tips. I have been watching with my son, lots of Black History programming on the History Channel. I still think we don’t have enough information shared on this topic. Thanks for sharing.

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Mrs. Stephens February 25, 2013 at 7:14 pm

This is a great post. I really liked this and I plan to use it to talk to my kids about slavery.

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Janeane Davis February 25, 2013 at 8:36 pm

I have always thought it was important to be honest and to teach my children things at home rather than try to undo what they learn elsewhere. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. My children have always responded to age appropriate discussions.

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Chasing Joy February 26, 2013 at 3:25 am

These are really great tips. I especially like the idea of using books. Me and my mom are readers and books facilitated many of our important talks when I was a kid.

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Colette S February 26, 2013 at 3:42 pm

These are very good starting points. Thank you for sharing.

I’ve had to answer some questions from my son who is 7 and I know he is learning and will want more discussion and answers soon.

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Amanda @ Guide for Mom February 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Wow, I never really have thought about this, it seems like great hints. I would think it is a subject to discuss when they are older and can comprehend the magnitude of it.

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AMBER EDWARDS February 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm

We lived in Germany for a few years while the husband was in the army. We took that time to teach our kids about race/religious discrimination. We had to keep it light because they are still so young, but we were able to show them more about WW2 history while in Germany and brought up topics about how bad things like that occurred in more than just Germany; and branched out to slavery in Europe, and the US. They were able to understand how treating others less simply because they look different, or believed different was wrong. That has been my goal with the discussions and they are learning it well, and it brings joy to my heart when I see my kids completely baffled when someone asks them “who’s that black kid or Spanish kid over there?”. They honestly are clueless to what they are asking. My boys don’t see color or race, they just see their friend. True story, it has happened multiple times to my boys. They are just clueless when someone points out a kid referencing them by their race orientation. It could also have to with having such a mixed race family, with African American cousins, Equadorian cousins, Mexican Cousins, and now Polynesian cousins.

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Cinny Bbs February 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm

This is an important topic to be discussed and I’m glad you came up with a game plan to do it.

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Jennifer Hughes February 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm

This is a tough topic to approach with children. I have young ones but wanted to start the discussion and didn’t know how. Thanks for giving me the starting point! And I hope you’ll share this on the Friday Flag Blog Linky at http://www.fridayflashblog.blogspot.com

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Susan February 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm

This is a hard topic to cover, thanks for the tips.

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Jacki Holmes February 27, 2013 at 1:38 am

My husband is from a long line of slave decedents here in Texas. At least 4 generations of his family were born in Texas after being brought here during the land expansion and prior to the Civil War. Tracing his family tree for many months provided the beginning of explanation for younger family members relating to slavery. They were interested in the history and learned the awful lesson both slavery and equal rights taught he and his family all while talking about distant relatives. Perhaps this approach would help those of you who have this history to explain.

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Hanifah Munadi February 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Wow!! Fantastic job. Our family has such a wonderful family and interesting tree on both sides. We are an international family, which makes for interesting dialogue. My children had to be taught very young about the diversities that they are part of and help ease any questions and or concerns that needed to be addressed. Thanks for sharing.

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Kimberly Weathersby February 28, 2013 at 1:51 am

This is a great article. I have struggled on how to approach this topic with my 6 year old, and you shared some great ideas. I love the concept of comparing it to stranger danger.

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Dee February 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Thank you so much for this, Amiyrah!

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Heather Hopson March 2, 2013 at 3:33 pm

hhhhmmmm, not sure at what age I would teach my daughter about slavery. A hard concept. Just like in Christian households explaining that Christ was crucified is a difficult discussion. Wonder what children’s books cover this topic. Think I’ll wait til elementary school age.

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Brandi March 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm

This is a great guide for parents, teachers, anyone who needs to explain anything to children in regards to American History. Thank you for such a well-written, thoughtful peace.

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Pam Margolis March 3, 2013 at 1:43 am

i don’t much care what you explain about slavery so much that you explain SOMETHING. it cannot be forgotten.

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DJrelAt7 March 4, 2013 at 1:31 am

i think its great to have resources to discuss slavery. I love the idea of opening it up for discussion later with your kids …I’m taking notes.

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Charity November 30, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Thank you again. My 8 yr old and I have talked some. I have a hard time explaining it without feeling disgust for the fact that people thought/think they can own another person, that any person could be less than another because of color. Honestly, I want my girls to have that same disgust.

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