Talking about our differences doesn’t divide us, it bonds us together as a community, and allows us to be more respectful, more inclusive and KINDer. Racism takes many forms including discrimination, prejudice, or hatred directed due to their colour, ethnicity or national origin.
By introducing your children to racism you are teaching them to treat everyone with respect and kindness, and to stand up for themselves and others when we see any form of injustice.
Recent study suggests adults avoid conversations with their kids about race for several reasons. They feel unqualified or uncomfortable but also assume children are too young to be aware of race. Studies show that babies recognize differences in skin colour and hair textures starting as early as 6 months old.
Not talking about race to children is actually harmful to them versus protecting them. Five year old children start associating with racial traits, stereotypes and social status. Just because a young child does not talk about any differences does not mean they are not noticing them. Children continue to draw their own conclusions about differences and usually they are misguided and biased because of the world we live in.
Conversations about racism and discrimination cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach since they will look different for each family. However, it is clear that the earlier parents start having this important conversation with their children the better. Here are some easy yet effective ways you can help children identify discrimination at an early age.
If you have a child whose age is between 0-2, try these out:
- Try and learn what your child is already learning about race from their favourite stories and characters. Ask different questions according to the book/show they like. For example, ask them "Which character from your favourite book would you wish to be friends with?". No matter the answer, ensure you try to respond without any judgement.
- If you are in the park and your child makes a comment about anyone's skin colour or asks why theirs is different from your child's, do not try to hush them or avoid the topic. Give them an example of how a garden has different flowers, in various colours and the way they are unique, similarly humans also come in all colours, size and forms and just how boring our world would be if we were all the same!
- At a very young age children begin to notice and point out differences. As parents, you can gently lay the foundation of how they view others by using age- appropriate language which is easy for them to understand. Next time they ask a difficult question, you can say “We are all human, but we are all unique, isn’t that amazing”.
Avoiding the subject is not protecting your children, it is leaving them exposed to daily biases. By introducing the topic in a timely manner, you are preparing them to understand why they or people around them are being treated in a certain way, which will impact their long-term development.
Children are hearing and learning about racism whether parents talk to them about it or not. Between 2 to 4 years of age they are already internalising racial bias. Hence it is of utmost importance that parents are aware of their own biases around them and are making an active effort to further educate them on the subject. Here are a few pointers that might be helpful if you have a child between the age of 3-5:
- Be open and honest with your little ones. Start by asking questions and understanding what they currently know, how they feel about it and what they are curious about.
- Awkward silences and hushed reactions teach children that they cannot talk about race which may enforce racism later.
- Follow your child's lead, if they are asking you follow up questions, they may be ready for more information.
- Conversations about racism should be ongoing and get more complex as the child grows and not a one-time occurrence.
Have open and honest discussions about diversity, racism and inclusivity with your children. This will encourage them to come to you with worries and questions. They are more likely to engage with you on this topic if they see you as a trusted source for advice. So if you have a 6-9 year old, please see below suggestions to help you navigate through this important conversation:
- If your child asks you questions about race based on recent world events or incidents in their school, further the discussion with questions. For example, ask them, "How do you feel about that?" or "Why do you think that?". Be mindful to hear the incident from their perspective before you respond. Asking them questions will also help you understand if your child was exposed to something insensitive or experinced discrimination themselves.
- Make it a practice to respond to every 'awkward' question your children ask. For example, if your child asks you why a lady at the supermarket is a different colour from them or why a kid at school has a parent who does not look like them. Do not squirm since it can send a message that talking about race is taboo. Instead explain to them how the humans are all different and that a person's skin colour is due to how much melanin is in one's skin and nothing else.
It is crucial to empower children and introduce the concept of racism. Let them know that even though racism is unfair, there are people working to change it and they can be a part of that change as well! At aKINDemy we want to help you raise children who can stand up against racial prejudice and disrespectful attitudes and believe we can build a world beyond racism and discrimination. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts on introducing Racism to children and don’t forget to share it with parents who may find this helpful!