browser phone mail fax play search left-arrow right-arrow up-arrow quote-left equalizer google facebook instagram twitter linkedin
Jun. 17, 2020 |

Talking about Race with Young Children

by: Kari White, Early Childhood Education Inclusion Specialist

We, as an organization and leader in the community, feel a deep sense of responsibility to ensure that children are learning about inclusivity, empathy, and compassion—not only as it relates to people with differing abilities, but also people of color. Research shows that children notice racial differences as early as 6 months old, such as skin color, eye shape, and hair texture. However, as kids get older, many learn not to talk about these differences, and as a result, confusion, misinformation, and stereotypes can fill that void of silence. In our current climate of racialized violence and uncertainty, it is even more important for children’s mental health and well-being, to start this dialogue early and provide a secure platform for them to express their fears and concerns, and release stress. In doing so, we can help all children connect with others in positive ways and work together to build thriving communities grounded in equality for all.

Here are some ways to discuss race and equality with your child:

  • Start the conversation:  Many parents avoid the conversation altogether because they are worried that they will not have all the answers. It is okay to not have all the answers. Assure your child that you will learn together. This should be an ongoing conversation rather than a one-time event. Create a space where they can ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings. Try to push through any discomfort you may feel, especially if this is a new practice.
  • Start early:  The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement on the impact of racism on child and adolescent health, which states that by ages 2-4, children can internalize racial bias without parental input and simply through observing the stereotypes that are so prevalent in society. It is critical to get out in front of the issue and build positive awareness of diversity and identity, talking about identity in a positive, affirming way.
  • Don’t be afraid to highlight differences:  In our classrooms, we talk regularly with all of the kids about differences and how they make us unique and special. We talk about how some people wear glasses, some kids use chairs with sides to support their bodies better, some people use their hands to communicate, and we all look different. We talk about the function of any adaptive equipment, to remove any guessing or incorrect assumptions, and we encourage every child to find what is unique and special about themselves. We leave space for discussion and questions, so we have a better idea of what they are thinking, feeling and still learning. Try using this framework to engage your child in a conversation about people from races other than your own. According to Jeanette Betancourt, Senior VP for social impact at Sesame Workshop, the antidote to color silence is talking clearly about physical differences and the reasons behind them. The book All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger is a great one to read with your child.
  • Reassure them:  With so much violence being shown on news and media outlets, remind your child that your job is to protect them. Try to stay positive by focusing on what actions we can take and how we can help. When a child experiences prejudice, it is important to both address the feelings and fight the prejudice, using the experience as an opportunity to teach against stereotypes.
  • Take action:  If you can volunteer or donate, have your child do this with you. Set an example and talk about why you are doing it. Remember that kids model what they see. As parents, we need to not only talk about undoing racism, we also need to “walk the walk.” Be intentional in terms of the media and other objects that your expose your kids to. Purchase dolls and toys that represent different races and read books that include characters with black or brown skin. My colleague and our other inclusion specialist Karen Zemlin put together this Kindness Activity to help kids recognize their feelings and notice that what we do affects how other people feel. And here is a list of great children’s books with characters of color to read with your kids.
  • Watch the Sesame Street special on racism:  On June 6th, Sesame Street aired a special on how to talk with young children about racism, including a Q&A portion with real questions from parents and kids. Watch it here.

We hope these tips help you start important conversations with your children. It is our hope that we can partner and learn together, to create long-lasting change.

Translate »