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Ask A Therapist: Did I Say The Right Thing As Her Mom?

Ask a Therapist, Racial/Cultural Identity
5 min read

Dear Therapist: My 7 year old daughter came home from school today and told me that a boy in her class said her hair looked like a rat's nest and that she needed to comb it. My heart breaks. As a parent you want to protect your child from those moments of racism you have experienced your entire life. I immediately told her that she was beautiful and should never listen to anyone about her hair. But I am feeling like my response was inadequate. Do you have any advice on what I can say to her as a follow up conversation or how I can handle this better in the future? 

Frame Community Therapist Folake Ike weighs in...
What your daughter experienced is disheartening. I can only imagine the confidence she likely had before leaving off to school that day with her hair styled beautifully only to be made to feel inferior by being compared to an animal, a rat’s nest. As a person of color who has experienced incidents like your daughter, and a parent myself, I can understand the desires you have expressed to protect her from the racism in the world. Those desires are what will guide you to make decisions in her best interest and respond to her with love and nurturance when the society can be so close-minded at times, in other words, your response was adequate!

At your daughter’s age, positive social interactions play an important role in development, and unfortunately, this is a time in which children will in fact listen to the negative comments of their peers, or anyone else for that matter. School aged-children aim to be good at everything, and it is at this stage that they begin to develop a level of confidence in their abilities, which contributes to their overall well-being. This level of confidence comes from recognition and acknowledgment of how they dress and groom themselves, perform in school work, home tasks, or other activities, or from how they attract positive attention from their peers. The attention she received was negative and I recognize the impact this likely has on her self-esteem at a time in her life where social interactions are impactful.

Continued follow up conversations about what she experienced may be helpful for her. I encourage you to explore with her how this experience made her feel. A conversation like this can support her emotional well-being by encouraging her to express her emotions using an emotion wheel or flashcards with emotions and facial expressions. Through this exploration, you’ll be able to reassure her that there is a space in which healthy expression of any emotion will be supported. 

Another recommendation is to help her to identify ways in which she demonstrates competence in various areas, both as it relates to school and environments outside of the school setting. What are things that she does well? How has she demonstrated characteristics of a good friend to others? How has she demonstrated being a helpful and loving daughter at home? Etc. 

Continue to affirm these things and you can also invite her at the end of each day to identify something she did well that day. I also recommend: “The Me I Choose To Be” and “Glory” by Natasha Tarpley and Regis and Kahran Bethencourt which are two books that demonstrate creative artistic photography of little girls with beautiful hairstyles. Additionally, A great book to read with her is “Hair Like Mine” by Latashia Perry. 

Although we cannot protect our children 100 percent from the racism in the world, we can provide them some tools to begin to develop confidence and resilience that they can continue to build up through independent exploration in later life. I encourage you in the future to continue supporting your daughter to define her beauty in her own terms as you’ve already done, not that of society’s.

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About the Therapist: Folake Ike is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified Perinatal Mental Health (PMH-C) clinician.  She operates her private practice,  Peace of You Therapy Services in San Diego, CA, providing individual therapy services to women adjusting to the waves of life, or struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression. Follow her @thefancytherapist.


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