One way to make the world a better and more accepting place is to raise racially aware children. But when should you start? What about when your children are very young? Is it possible or advisable to introduce the concept of race to toddlers and pre-schoolers?
The answer is yes, it’s both possible and advisable. And there are many ways to do it. Here are some ideas and tools you can use to raise your racially aware child from a young age.
As with many other aspects of modern child rearing, parents are sometimes nervous about teaching their kids to be racially aware and may tend to avoid the conversation altogether. Just as we point out blue skies and red fire engines, it’s important that we ‘name what we see’. When parents are silent, kids tend to make up their own stories about what’s missing. It’s helpful for kids if parents describe the actual color of a person’s complexion and then explain how those shades are most often categorized by society into ‘white’ and ‘black’.
Lori Taliaferro Riddick and Sachi Feris from the site Raising Race-Conscious Children say, “Parents often ask which words they should use to describe skin tones. We advocate for using both types of words — actual skin tones (like “brown” or “peach”) is more descriptive and more accurate to what we actually see; but I use the words “white” and “black” even though it is a social construct just to break it down for my children. If I don’t use those words, it’s harder to talk in a larger way about race in our society.” That lays the groundwork to talk about race in a more substantial way down the road and helps kids build the vocabulary they need to talk about race and diversity, as an open and healthy topic.
Choose books by authors of different races so that children learn from other perspectives. Balance books that simply tell a story with a diverse cast of characters, such as those by Ezra Jack Keats, with books that focus on race and culture. This exposes children to the idea that other cultures and races exist and have value, and that people can do the same things regardless of their skin color. Here are some children’s books with characters of color:
- The Bot That Scott Built
- Big Red Lollipop
- Tía Isa Want a Car
- Lizard from the Park
- Ada Twist, Scientist
And here are two wonderful books that explicitly talk about race:
Media portrayals are often stereotyped, so be aware and point out those flaws to your children. Sometimes we feel nostalgic and want to introduce shows from our childhood to our kids. Doing so can be a lot of fun and build a sense of connection. It can also provide a great opportunity to point out any flawed portrayals that you observe while still allowing you to watch together. In addition, look for ways to choose movies that portray characters in counter-stereotypical roles. The goal is for your children to understand that people are individuals, with unique personalities, desires, and should be free to each make their own choices.
Introduce racial diversity through everyday playthings. If your child plays with dolls, consider including in the toy box dolls with different skin colors. When you color with your child, use shades of peach and brown to color in the people. These things convey that different skin colors are perfectly normal. People Colors Crayons is a great crayon set that allows kids to represent themselves and others in their artwork in a way that traditional crayon color schemes do not.
Learn about other cultures and celebrate them with your children. Cook different ethnic foods, try a traditional craft or game, or learn a song from another culture. Also let children know about things that are part of your own cultural heritage. Not everyone celebrates the same holidays, eats the same food, or has the same traditions, but each culture is special in its own way.
Help your children develop a diverse group of friends. If you live in a less diverse neighborhood, consider joining a more racially diverse play group, religious congregation, or kids’ sports team. As children develop relationships with people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, they are more able to appreciate people as individuals, instead of categorizing or stereotyping them.
Teaching children about race is something they will appreciate and is an opportunity to forge deep, authentic connection. By teaching your children about race and diversity from a young age, you can prepare them to tackle difficult topics as they get older, be accepting and inclusive of others, and develop a sense of cultural pride in their own unique heritage.
Finally, here is a great blog with a list of 5 books to teach your kids kindness. The world can never have enough empathy and understanding. Here’s to all of us doing our part!