Talking about race can be a daunting endeavor and many parents struggle with where to begin.

Children are like sponges; they soak up information from everywhere. Kids pick up on cues from their friends, family, news headlines and social media. Although discussing race can seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be.

Parents often have anticipatory anxiety when it comes to these discussions. On the bright side, the fear of what could unfold is often much worse than the actual conversation that takes place.

Many parents have concerns about potentially “pointing out” race to their children due to fear of drawing attention to something kids may not notice yet. As much as we might want that sentiment to be true. Children are very perceptive and are already quite aware of differences in people. As an example, take height, weight, age, hair color, stature, style of dress, and many other attributes of a person’s presentation. Skin color is just one aspect of many that make up a person’s identity.

One consistent attribute of children is their exploration of the world in the form of questions. If they have seen protests on the streets or in the news, chances are they have already asked someone about them.

It’s important to have this discussion with kids because this historically taboo topic is not going away. Children are very vigilant and will directly observe how parents address the topic of race and racism in their own lives – or how they don’t. Instead of thinking of this discussion as terrifying, think of it as an opportunity to help your child become a more understanding, empathetic, and caring human being.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Be open

Children are curious by nature. They are going to ask you tough questions. And it’s ok to not have all the answers. If they ask you a question you don’t know how to answer, tell them that. By doing so you’re successfully modeling that adults don’t have all the answers all the time, and taking time to think about your response is ok.

2. Differences and commonalities

Children are much more likely to see the world through a lens of what makes people different from one another. It’s easier to conceptualize what is different, as opposed to what is similar, especially for younger children. For example, if your child asks why their skin color is different from another child’s, acknowledge that their observation is valid, and also acknowledge that although people are different they also have similarities. Share that while people may look different, we can still have many things in common.

3. Be curious

This is a stressful time and your children are likely to be feeling this too. Encourage them to talk to you about things they have on their mind, and to be curious about what is happening around them. If you don’t know how your child is managing with these stressors, ask them – chances are they have a lot to say but don’t know how to bring it up.

4. Explore

There are many fun and creative ways to bring diversity into your home. Try watching a foreign film and having a discussion about it at the end. Find a new recipe to try and help your kids research the country it came from and the people who live there. Exposing kids to different social groups helps improve cross-cultural communication, understanding and empathy.

5. Check in with yourself first

Children will look to the adults in their lives for guidance. If you’re not sure how you feel about what’s going on, take some time to think about it. Talk to people you trust, read and educate yourself on current events so you feel comfortable with the questions your kids might ask you.

Remember, your children don’t expect you to be perfect. And it’s ok to not have all the answers. This is a unique time in history, and presents an opportunity to talk to you children about racism, equality, kindness, empathy and respect.

The author is an Advanced Line Therapist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a science which works to increase and decrease targeted behaviors in people. Intensive ABA therapy is a method of treatment for children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His job presents unique challenges, yet he knows that he is helping his clients lead more fulfilling lives. He finds the work infinitely interesting, though physically demanding and exhausting.

My job is going from house to house within the Milwaukee suburbs doing one-on-one ABA therapy with kids who are on various areas of the autism spectrum.

Each child has six to nine people working with them on a team. The people the child sees most frequently are the line therapists, of which there is an average of four per team. The line therapists are trained to be robotic with the children and use simple cause and effect techniques to determine how to manage the child’s challenging behaviors. For example, most of the programs that we do are administered at “table time”. To begin table time, you are instructed to say “come here” or “it’s table time”, one time only. If the child does not come, the therapist must silently stand up and manually guide them to the table, kicking and screaming as they may be. Consistency is key in this line of work.

Most (full time) line therapists average seven hours per week with four kids, give or take, approximately 40 total hours when you factor travel. When I talk to other line therapists and tell them I do upwards of thirty four one-on-one hours per week I usually get a look of amazement, because they understand the demanding nature of the job.

My usual day consists of three shifts of two to three hours, yet by the time the first shift is over I often feel like I’ve just spent a 10-hour day in the sun (which I know because I used to work 10-hour days in the sun). Following this, and travel time, I find myself arriving at a three-hour afternoon shift already beaten and battered (sometimes quite literally). Part of the challenge to my job is remaining positive, partially because some of the kids are so seriously challenged, and partially because by the time I’ve gotten to that last house chances are I’m on your third cup of coffee and my mind is placed solely on the comforts of your own room. Throughout my time with the company I have realized that the child learns best when they perceive you as fun, and enjoy spending time with you. I am a naturally animated person who unashamedly participated in theater in high school, so I know how to access the extra energy even when I’m already burnt out.

I am an advanced line therapist. Which means I’ve been on the child’s team for a while and have the ability to help train new staff. The longer I’ve worked with ABA therapy, the more I’ve learned about the business side of managing a  service like this one. Turnover is high. More frequently, the position of advanced line therapist is merely relied on by management to complete time consuming paperwork such as data sheets and progress notes in an efficient manner. My position is overseen by seniors, supervisors, and leads. These people make up the members of the child’s team. I’m a recent college graduate, so I don’t have specialty training in therapy or in working with kids on the autism spectrum. While I did have to go through training before beginning my work, the company I work for employs somewhere around 500 people and I am completely replaceable. If I commit to this positi0n long term, there are opportunities for advancement, and I find the work rewarding enough that I may stick around. Despite the exhausting nature of the daily work, it’s rewarding to see kids improve in the way they’re able to interact and express themselves.

Every child has different needs. The rules can be bent or broken depending of the circumstances surrounding each child. For example, I am on the team of one child where we do programs on the floor (as opposed to the table) in context with our play. With this child, there is no determined beginning or end to “work time” as we might call it. With each house you need to go through a mental tally chart in your mind of all the conflicting needs of the child as well as the expectations of family. The day becomes a mental game of whack-a-mole regarding which technique to use while managing a particular behavior.

The work is endlessly interesting. One of the kids I work with engages in a screeching and wandering behavior when undesired things take place. An example of such an event is the internet going out, or the loss of a toy animal. He will put his hands on his ears, protrude an under bite, and stomp his feet widely as he paces around the living room screeching at a tight wavelength. I assume the wavelength of the sound is tight because it is high pitched and rattles the eardrums when done properly by the child. His goal during this bout seems to be hitting this particular wavelength, and using his imagination to escape the situation. Our senior therapist’s behavior plan includes us blocking the wandering behavior so that the child literally cannot wander. The screeching, on the other hand, seems to be a deeper seeded issue. We usually try to give the screeching child incompatible behaviors, like telling the child to say things (such as “I don’t like that”), because you cannot screech when you are talking. We also have many teaching programs in place regarding the use of language.

Overall, my work is challenging, and deeply rewarding. I see the kids make great strides each day. O.K., sometimes it’s just baby steps, but progress is progress and every step counts. I’m working on adjusting my expectations and I’m looking forward to where this experience takes me.

If you are interested in meeting with a behavioral health care provider to support mental health and wellness, try online videoconferencing through Inpathy

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline at 1.800.273.8255. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.