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Sworn-in as VP, Kamala Harris Presents Teachable Moment for Your Kids

illustration of Kamala Harris's inauguration

Joshua Seong / Verywell

For many Americans, this week was a momentous one. Regardless of your personal political beliefs, it is hard to ignore that a woman of color being sworn in as Vice President of the United States was a historic moment, one your children probably watched live or have seen since. Kamala Harris is now the first woman, first Black woman, and first person of Southeast Asian descent to hold this office.

This moment serves as a great opportunity to have meaningful conversations with your children about the importance of representation. Depending on their ages, this may have been the first inauguration they will remember, and they may not be privy to the longstanding systemic racism that the country has seen.

They might not understand that, until recently, a Black or Brown person in the White House was unheard of. As a parent, you can inform them just how important this occasion is, and how they can view it as motivation for their own lives.

What This Means For Our Kids

For young girls of color, this is the first time that someone who looks like them has held this position, and for all girls it is the first time that a woman of any color has been elected to one of the most powerful positions in our government. It's important for us to acknowledge how momentous this occasion is, that it might serve as a reminder for our kids that they are capable of reaching their loftiest goals.

During her Vice President-elect acceptance speech, Vice President Harris said, "To the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way."

Engaging in these conversations can aid in determining the route our children take moving forward, especially when they are equipped with both history and encouragement of what their efforts can do.

During a lecture at Spelman College, for example, Harris said, "My mother would look at me and she’d say, 'Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last,'...That’s why breaking those barriers is worth it. As much as anything else, it is also to create that path for those who will come after us."

Topics like race and diversity can feel daunting to explain to children, but in reality, children are very open to discussion about seemingly heavy topics. Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist and Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind, suggested a few methods for broaching the subject, and how you can continue to engage in such an important topic with your kids.

How To Start Discussing Representation

Utilize Context They Will Understand

Utilizing dates for background information can be second nature to you, but it's not always helpful for kids. Try using parameters that they can grasp to illustrate moments in history and how much time has passed.

“Give them a quick age-appropriate history lesson on how things have changed. Rather than referring to the 1920s or the 1960s, put it in context that your kids will better understand by saying something like, ‘When Grandma was a little girl, people of color weren't allowed to vote.’” says Morin.

Let Them Drive the Conversation

Morin suggests inviting your kids to ask questions. This is a good measure of where they are in their understanding, and can give you guidance on where to take the conversation next.

Morin says, “A good place to start is by asking your kids what they know about the change taking place in the White House. They may have some information based on what they've heard but they may not understand what is taking place.”

If friends or classmates are their primary sources of information, your perspective can help fill in the gaps.

It’s Okay To Not Have All the Answers

As an adult tasked with caring for your children, knowing all of the right answers can feel like a requirement. In reality, no one has all the answers, and it will benefit both you and your little one to be honest about when you don't.

“When you don't know the answer or you're uncertain how to word something, that's OK. Let them know you'll get back to them on that. Do a little research on your own and get back to them with an answer you feel comfortable sharing.” says Morin. This can be an opportunity to keep the conversation going, and to learn something new together.

Amy Morin, LCSW

Don't make your conversation a one time discussion. Instead, make it a habit to hold regular conversations about diversity and how things are changing.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

Be Honest

People of color are aware that the swearing in of Kamala Harris as VP does not signify the end of racism, nor does it negate the race-based atrocities that we know will continue to occur. Sexism is still present, and while she made it into office, there are undoubtedly people who question her ability to lead because she is a woman.

There is no pressure to paint this as a magic wand or the closing of a book. Rather, it is the turning of a page. Bring that honesty to the conversation with your children. Let them know that both good and bad can and does exist in the world at the same time.

If your children are a little older, they may have some awareness of issues like slavery and other forms of discrimination in our past and present. As someone who has lived more of that history, you have the power to provide more context in an age-appropriate way, and to continue to discuss these things—and the importance of progress—as they grow up.

These can be difficult conversations, but children are resilient, and often capable of handling more than you might expect.

Use This as a Jumping-Off Point

Even if this is the first intentional conversation you have had with your little one about representation and its importance, ensure that it is not the last. "Don't make your conversation a one time discussion. Instead, make it a habit to hold regular conversations about diversity and how things are changing." Morin said.

It can also be the beginning of matching your talks with action, just as Harris knows that this win does not equate the end of the fight for equal rights. She spoke of her mother instilling this in her during her first campaign appearance saying, "My parents would bring me to protests strapped tightly in my stroller, and my mother, Shyamala, raised my sister, Maya, and me to believe that it was up to us and every generation of Americans to keep on marching."

What This Means For You

Even with this incredible stride, there is a lot of messaging that can make children feel like they have limited options or opportunities to achieve their goals. We still have a lot of room for improvement, and there are also likely to be people in your kids' lives who do not hold the same values as you. Use this as an opportunity to share that while there will always be obstacles, those obstacles do not determine how far your child can go.

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