On last week’s post we talked about the importance of talking to our kids (even very young ones) about diversity and racism and today, as promised, I will share with you some tips and resources that have been helpful to me in this important endeavor.
1. Check you own biases.
When it comes to teaching our children about this very vital subject, the first and most important step is taking time to critically examine our own biases.
“We’re all breathing in misinformation. We’re all being exposed to stereotypes, and we all have to think about how we have been impacted by that. You sometimes hear people say there is not a prejudiced bone in my body. But I think when somebody makes that statement, we might gently say to them check again. That if we have all been breathing in smog, we can’t help but have have our thinking shaped by it somehow. As a consequence, we all have work to do. Whether you identify as a person of color, whether you identify as a white person, it doesn’t matter. We all have been exposed to misinformation that we have to think critically about.” –Beverly Tatum, RACE: The Power of an Allusion
“Even when we are members of a group that suffers from discrimination, we may perpetuate prejudice directed at other groups. If we can face our own biases, and if we work to overcome them, we are less likely to pass them on to our children.” Talking to Our Kids About Racism and Diversity. The Leadership Conference
Telling ourselves we are not biased or racist just because we are not actively discriminating against others or calling them names does not meant we are not biased or racist. As we read in the quote above, harmful messages and misinformation are widespread and often times our brains will unconsciously pick up on these messages and our thoughts and actions will be shaped accordingly. These biases we hold will be passed on to our children unless we acknowledge them and make the effort to counteract them.
You can take Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Test to help you explore your own biases.
2. Acknowledge Diversity.
The most common response to issues of race in our society today is to feign “colorblindness.” In other words, we try to pretend that everyone is the same and differences simply don’t exist. The main problem with this notion is that even as children, we begin to naturally make distinctions and categorize people very early on in life. This means that trying to act like we are “colorblind” is just that, an act.
“Colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending race doesn’t exit is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice.” RACE: The Power of an Allusion
So how do we counteract this tendency?
We must acknowledge our differences and teach our children to see people as individuals rather than a representative of a group.
“We have to give ourselves permission to see race, and cultivate the mental habit of individuation. Individuation is exactly what it sounds like, namely, focusing on the things that make people individuals. The most obvious level of individuation is based on sensory information, particularly what people look like. When we give ourselves permission to notice race, we can also give ourselves permission to see how people of the same race don’t really look like each other. We can then move from there to other characteristics that make people individuals.” Isaac Butler. Perception Institute
3. Encourage Diversity.
Give your children ample opportunities to interact with people from different backgrounds. You can also provide them with dolls and action figures of different ethnicities.
author Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich wrote some guidelines of what to look for when choosing books to teach our kids about race and diversity:
“Look for narratives that don’t only portray marginalized groups as suffering, in crisis, or being “saved” by outsiders; it’s also important to avoid reading only “hero” narratives about “exceptional” individuals. Seek out stories of multidimensional characters living complex lives.”
Here are a couple book lists (by age) that I have personally found helpful (I was able to check several of these books out from our local public library):
- 39 books that teach children about race
- List of early childhood books that talk about racial identity
4. Take Advantage of Teachable Moments.
When topics of race and diversity come up, be ready to engage your children in a healthy conversation. Children will often ask embarrassing questions and even blurt out racist remarks. It is important that we see these moments as an opportunities rather than a nuisance. This is our chance to understand their motives and guide their thoughts in the right direction. By doing this, we create a safe place where they can share and learn without feelings of guilt and shame. Chastising and shutting them down however, will send an altogether different message.
If you are looking for more specific guidance on how to take advantage of these teachable moments,take a few minutes to read the “What you Might Say When…” Section of this brochure by the Leadership conference. Here are a couple examples:
AFTER HER FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN, MY DAUGHTER MENTIONED THAT KARLA, THE ONLY SPANISH SPEAKING CHILD IN HER CLASS, “TALKS WEIRD.” WHY WOULD SHE SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
This is a wonderful opportunity to help your daughter understand that “different” and “weird” do not mean the same thing. Explain that people from different parts of the world, or even different regions of this country, sound different. You can introduce the idea that if your family moved somewhere else, your language or accent could sound different to the people who live there.
Young children, still in the process of learning their own language, are often fascinated by other languages and accents they hear around them. This is a great time to encourage excitement and curiosity about languages. “I’d like to learn Spanish,” is a possible response. Expressing admiration for Karla is another. “I think Karla’s doing something really hard. Her family speaks Spanish and she’s learning English. I think that’s great.”
Perhaps you can share with your daughter the languages you, your family and friends may know. You or a bilingual friend can teach her words or songs in different languages. She might like to make up her own language. If she is really excited and interested in language, you can find language tapes especially for children that might be fun for her.
MY SEVEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TOLD A RACIST JOKE AND COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHY I DIDN’T THINK IT WAS FUNNY. I WAS ANGRY AND EMBARRASSED. WE’RE NOT RACIST. WHAT SHOULD I SAY?
Most seven-year-olds love jokes and riddles. This is a time when their sense of humor is becoming developed and refined. At this age a racist joke is an experiment, not a malicious act. A thoughtful response to hurtful humor will help your child grasp the power of language to evoke both pleasure and pain. Try to explain why the joke could hurt someone’s feelings and let her know that you don’t like humor that makes fun of people. You might want to connect it to how she would feel if someone made fun of her because of the color of her hair or eyes.
This is an example of a situation that may need immediate attention. If your daughter hurt another child’s feelings with this joke, you probably want to encourage her to apologize. Depending on what you and your child decide together, you might want to talk to the other child’s parents, discuss what happened, and let them know how you are handling it.
If you found these helpful, you might want to check out the all the others on this link.
5. Promote Empathy.
Here are a couple of excepts that I found helpful on this topic:
“Preschoolers are ready to begin thinking critically about the accuracy and fairness of the information and images they encounter. They also have the capacity to use their developing empathy to understand that unfair behavior hurts people and can learn respectful ways of interacting with others.
- Cultivate children’s empathy and ways to deal with the hurt of stereotyping. Read books that depict children experiencing unfair treatment based on their racial identity.
- Tell persona doll stories about a discriminatory incident between dolls, engaging children’s empathy and problem-solving skills.”-Teaching Young Children About Race: A Guide for Parents and Teachers
“Have [your children] reflect on these experiences and focus especially on the feelings of others. In this way, you help [your children] be sensitive to what people are going through in these situations and promote empathy. Allow and help [your children] express their range of emotions (anger, rage, frustration, sadness, hopelessness) about what’s happening as well as listen with compassion to the feelings of others.”-Race Talk, Anti-Defamation League
Another idea would be for you to intentionally place your family in a situation where you would be a minority. You could, for example, attend a minority church service or a cultural festival in your area. Make sure to note your child’s reactions and help them talk about their feelings related to the experience.
6. Be intentional and Lead by Example.
It is important to recognize that teaching our children to “love their neighbors,” as Christ commanded, requires a deliberate effort on our part. If we just sit back and expect them to somehow learn the right lessons on their own we will be grossly disappointment. Our children need to not only hear the right messages from us, they must see them lived out in our lives.
What does my circle of friends look like? Do my children see me interact with people who look or do things differently than me? What kind of words do I use when I am referring to people of other ethnicities?
Let us take the time to reflect on the answers to these questions and take the appropriate steps to ensure we are being a positive example for our children.
Ultimately, although we can’t make our children’s choices for them, we can provide them with the tools to make the right ones.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12 NIV (Emphasis added)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9 NIV (Emphasis added)
Do you have any other tips or resources that have helped you talk to your children about diversity and racism? I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts about this post. Looking forward to reading your comments below.