Illustration by: Rich Sigberman
“SHOE” – Teaching Kids About Intuition and Racism
Trying to explain to kids the difference between racism and tuning into their intuitive sense can be a very tricky task. We need to educate and guide children through understanding the difference between their intuitive sense versus something that may be tagged as racism.
I think of myself as open-minded, as well as someone who is willing to look at my own potential blind spots. As both a mother and therapist, I love to show kids how to recognize their own blind spots.
The recent shootings of people of color by police officers have me considering the best way to talk to kids about racism and how to look at their own implicit biases..
In my book, myHeartyKid’s Guidebook for Parents, I teach a playful and powerful concept about intuition. I call it “Shoe”: This effective expression was created to signal a feeling of discomfort or fear. “Does your shoe hurt?” Eliana asks. My daughter is speaking in code, one we created together so that we could easily share our fear and/or apprehension in code, while in public. My children and I use this code so that they can learn how to, as best as they can, feel safe in an unpredictable and/or uncomfortable situation.
Here’s how it works: When my children and I are out and anyone of us feels uncomfortable for any reason, that person simply says, “My shoe hurts.” That lets us know that something scary or uncomfortable is going on. It alerts me that I need everyone present in our family to gather close by so we can find safety and then explore those feelings.
Our code word came to us when my oldest daughter was in preschool. One day, we were in a cafe where I had just ordered a cup of coffee. When, what seemed like out of the blue, a woman started to chase after me, holding her shoe and shaking it at me. My immediate concern was for the safety of my daughter. Once we left the coffee shop and the troubled woman, I knew we had to talk about what had just occurred. Although my daughter was only 5, she understood things beyond her age. She immediately called her the ‘shoe’ lady, and, thus, our code was created and set in place.
From then on, my children and I use the word ‘shoe’ if we are feeling uncomfortable for any reason. I realized I was teaching my kids about intuition – or as we began to refer to it: “shoe” or “in-shoe-ition.”
As my children have gotten older, we have used this conversation to explore racism alongside intuition. I often remind them to always trust their gut. A decision made from their gut is a true response, even if appearance, race, culture, sexuality, poverty, etc. does, in fact, play a role.
This process has a powerful intention: helping children feel safe should they feel out of sorts for any reason. Its bonus purpose is to open conversation about complicated topics: our own biases, fears and racism. It is vital to teach children to listen to their intuition and trust it. In addition, we want to explore the why behind our bias.
What ‘shoe’ can do is open the “why” behind our discomfort. It serves as a safe place to explore what the child is experiencing. Recently, after one of my daughters had called out ‘shoe’, we took some time as a family to explore what was “shoe” about the situation we had just encountered.
“That man kept looking at me,” my daughter explained. She had enough sense to use our shoe code word, rather than wonder aloud why he was looking in her direction or if she was being unfair. At that point I asked her to explore her discomfort. He was heavily tattooed, with art going up his neck, and had a ton of piercings. She said, “He looked scary and kept looking at me. I felt afraid.” Her fear may not have been irrational. It’s powerful to explain that just because we may be experiencing thoughts tied to implicit racism doesn’t necessarily mean that we are wrong about our safety. This is an important distinction for all of us to make. “Shoe” allows a parent the opportunity to further explore what may be underlying the child’s discomfort.
When necessary, we discuss, if and how race plays a part in their calling ‘shoe.’ This process can provide a way to safely explore a complex topic.
As a parent, what we can best do is look at our own biases, not hide them, but rather explore their origins. It is powerful to ask oneself if we have inherited ancestral pain and racist ideas from others. This process provides an opportunity to begin the conversation so that our own unexplored racism comes to the forefront and is better understood. The child’s’ intuitive gut reaction is also honored and has room to grow alongside our own fear of it being racism. In keeping the conversation alive, we are teaching the importance of inquiry and exploration. No matter what, it is vitally important to create a sense of safety for children to address topics that are difficult and uncomfortable and ‘shoe’ is one approach.
In closing, take this call to action! Choose a word like shoe. Make it your family codeword for identifying an uncomfortable reaction to an unsettling circumstance. Teach your child to use this family word to tell you that something is bothering them and that it is okay to explain nothing more to you because the causes will be discussed later, in a safer venue. In particular, be alert to the potential causes of this discomfort as this may assist you later in developing your child’s ability to focus, pinpoint and discuss their discomfort. As this relates to racism, the most important task is to be aware of your own racism and habitual reactions. When you courageously examine your own thinking, you are guiding your child to a clearer understanding of potential prejudices or cultural fears they may have already learned or absorbed.