Tip of the Week: How to talk to YOUR child about Juneteenth

Those of you who have followed my weekly tips for the past several years know that I have written about everything from bowel movements to skin picking to sexual development. Not one topic has made me uncomfortable – until now. As you may have read, we are celebrating Juneteenth on campus on 6/21. Because of that, I wanted to write about not just celebrating a historic day but also how to have the conversation with kids about what Juneteenth is and why it’s important. Why does it matter, and how did we get from there to here, and what else needs to be done?

It is not a simple conversation, but it is a necessary one. It is okay to feel uncomfortable; it means that you care and that this topic is important to you. To have the conversation about the end of slavery means we also need to have the conversation about what slavery was and the generational impact it has had on families and society as a whole. The underlying truth – that white farm owners needed labor and indentured servants eventually worked off their debt so their solution was to capture people from another continent and force them to work in horrible conditions for generations – is not an easy thing to explain to a child.

It is difficult to look at an African American child and tell them that their ancestors were enslaved, and it is hard to look at a white child and tell them that their ancestors enslaved others for profit. The entire conversation is hard. But as I stated earlier, it is necessary in order for us to move forward as the small community that we have at Latham, the larger community of families living with a child with PWS, and as a nation.

Some might think that raising a child with the belief that all races are equal is enough, but it is important that you have the conversation with your child to offset what they will see outside of your home. Social media, television, movies, and differing attitudes of members in their community may be giving the message, even inadvertently, that there is a bias when it comes to race. Who is represented in the media? When a particular race is represented, how are they represented? Pay close attention to this and it will become obvious very quickly that there are few minorities represented positively, and children are watching and learning—whether you want them to or not. All of these things go into the formation of bias and prejudice.

In order to explain Juneteenth, you will need to explain slavery. Your explanation will depend on the age and developmental level of the child.

  • Young children can be told that owning another person is called slavery and it’s wrong. Freedom is a basic human right that every person in the world should have. With a young child, the explanation should be simple but not downplayed. It happened and it was bad.

  • For a slightly older child, you can add that they were born into a society where not everyone is treated equally. It’s wrong, but they can make it right. The system may still be broken, but they can play a part in fixing it.

  • For the older child, explain that slavery may be gone but the lasting effects on families and the systemic racism that we see throughout the country – such as incarceration rates, banking and loans, home ownership, and education – is very much a current reality. Have a conversation not just about what is wrong but also what they can do today to help. Discuss how their generation can finally put a stop to hundreds of years of blatant and subtle racism.

The celebration of Juneteenth is not only a way to celebrate freedom from slavery – but also freedom from modern-day judgment, prejudice, and inequality. In celebrating Juneteenth, we come together as a community and as a nation and say that we are equal, we are family, and we are moving ahead together.


Patrice Carroll, Latham Centers’ Director of PWS Services, is world-renowned for her Prader-Willi syndrome expertise. She works with Latham students and residents, their families, and other experts, continuously learning and teaching about PWS best practices. If you have PWS-related questions, we invite you to email TipTopics@LathamCenters.org.

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