From a young age, as early as 3 months, Children notice racial differences in facial composition. This ability to notice differences is not yet impressed upon with a negative or a positive belief towards racial attitudes. Biases form as a result of the social and cultural climate that children are exposed to as they mature. Parent’s influence on how children perceive race and identity is essential during their child’s formative years.
The issue remains largely unaddressed because the conversation of race is a difficult and complex topic. Parents, we want you to be prepared to approach this topic with your child because acknowledging racial awareness and encouraging positive racial attitude leads to a more confident child and an appreciation for diversity. Together, we can build a safer community for all families, beginning with our home. Here are 5 methods on how to talk about race with your child.
1. Educate Yourself
The racial attitudes of our children are founded on the implicit attitudes of their primary guardian. Although explicit messages around race are important to creating a well-rounded thought process in your child, children pick up the subconscious ideas that their guardians have. This conflict between internalized racial ideals and external messages of acceptance can result in mixed messaging. In addition, clear, accurate information about the history of racial tension and its effects on society is especially important in your first conversation about race.
First, ask yourself how you constructed your thoughts on race. Journaling and writing down your answers will help you break down this process.
1) “Growing up, my parents taught me how people who were not like us were…”
Write down their actions, sayings, and attitude.
2) “What group of people do I feel most comfortable and uncomfortable with? Why?”
3) “What do I know about slavery in history and do I believe it still affects our society today?”
Reflecting upon personal bias can mean admitting or acknowledging our shortcomings, and admitting that we need help to address those issues. That is the honest and most sincere first step for any parent who wants to address the topic of race with their little ones. It helps us be vigilant with the passive, negative remarks we make in the household that may otherwise have been overlooked.
2. Diversify Your Child's Library and Toys
Children are drawn to characters that are familiar, and the books, movies, and toys that children interact with enforces familiarity. When young children have an expanded library that high lights the beauty of diversity and normalizes differences, diverse characters become familiar. Children’s ideas of “normal” are highly impacted by the content and products that they are surrounded by. These are also great teaching tools to reinforce an activist mentality, to break down the concept of prejudice, to teach historical oppression, and to encourage the discovery of identity.
Above all, expanding their collection of movies, books, and toys reflect an accurate depiction of reality, making them comfortable interacting with their environment out in the world! Setting up your child with a positive perspective of different cultures and races is more attainable through your actions than with your words alone. Your choice to expand the content that they engage with is an observable statement to your child that you encourage them to love themselves and to love others.
Check out bümos printable, “Must-Reads to Raise Anti-Racist Children.”
3. Don't Be a Bystander, Be an Activist Every Day
Recognizing passive and/or inappropriate Racial comments in our loved one’s language, as well as our own, is one method to normalize conversations about race. Your response models for your children how they can be active and alert in everyday conversations with others, especially ones who may hold different views.
This method is a significant step to your child’s confidence to view speaking up for their beliefs as a normal process. It shows them that they are allowed to calmly and gently disagree, even with the people they respect and love.
Let your child see you acknowledge and face your own biases when you say something that can sound stereotypical about an ethnic group. This way, self-reflection becomes a learned practice from observation.
Be attentive to value judgments. There is a difference between hearing, “My friend has darker skin than me!” and “Why is her skin dirty?” One is descriptive from observation and the other is perspective from a subjective conclusion. Kindly correct your child by saying, “Their skin isn’t dirty. It’s just different from yours and it’s just as beautiful! We are all so different, but that’s what makes us special.”
4. Have a Real Conversation
Beginning a real conversation with your child is hard because it is a complex issue. Where does one start?
Here are a few examples of conversation starters by age.
1. Ages 2-3: Start with observation, like “My hair is longer than your hair” and add a positive comment to normalize differences, like “and your looks nice! My hair looks nice too!” Observing differences as simple and normal facts makes it easier to talk about differences that your child will notice between themselves and others in the future.
2. Aged 4-6: Asking questions after watching movies or reading books help unpack prejudice and inequality. “Do you think Character Name was treated fairly? What happened? Why do you think that happened?”
3. Ages 7-8: Most likely, by this age, your child will have questions with what’s going on around them or on the news/internet. Check-in with them by asking about their thoughts and observations, like “What do you see?” “What do you think is happening.”
4. Ages 9-10: Explaining concepts in stages and making a game-plan helps children fully form their thought processes. Ask, “How did that make you feel when Name said that to you/about Other Name?” and “What can we say the next time this happens?”
As another note to keep in mind when engaging with your child on the topic of race, it’s always easier for the child to open up when the adult is honest first. Give your child an example of a racial bias that you held and how you overcame it. Real conversations are more than just an explanation or lecture, it’s a tango between you and your child. Remember, conversations around race are ongoing. Our understanding of one’s race and the relation to identity and society becomes multi-faceted as we get older and our identity develops. So, the importance of having age-appropriate, regular conversations are vital to raising race-conscious kids!
5. Encourage Friendships
By creating friendships with children from different race groups outside of your child’s own race, your child can adopt a positive attitude toward different racial groups. Friendship is one of the most personal ways for your child to develop empathy and become exposed to the social pains that are familiar to other cultures. A few ways that you can encourage your child to create cross-racial friendships is by organizing play-dates, offering rides to sporting events, and sharing meals.
As an important note, be proactive with expanding your own social circle to people of other races. Your child will see your actions and follow your model! As adults, opportunities to create new friendships come less frequently. Creating these social opportunities for yourself can be through supporting POC-owned businesses, cooking cross-cultural meals, and attending community events.
As these friendships begin to form, there may be moments that your child (or your child’s friend) blurts insensitive or false ideals about different races. Remind the child it’s okay to make mistakes and that we shouldn’t judge other kids for making mistakes. Respond calmly in every situation with, “let’s talk about that for a moment.” Refocus your child’s attitude to create healthy habits of examination and thoughtfulness.
Parents, in the end, we are all learning to combat the stereotypes and prejudices that we subconsciously hold. Doing the work now creates a safer future for all our children. If we do not teach our children about racial awareness, then they will learn – first – from the media and their surroundings. Let’s help them understand what’s going on in the world and feel confident in themselves.