Updated: Apr 2, 2021
How do we educate our children about race?
In the last few months, the injustice brought to light by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and many others has pushed the topic of racial injustice to the front pages of the news as protestors push for systematic change. The new attention brought to the issue of racial prejudice has caused parents and guardians to ask themselves, “What can I do to better educate my children on the subject of race?”.
Before we ask ourselves this question, we must recognize the need to understand race and why we should be talking about it. Although one popular ideology has suggested that the best thing to minimize bias and stereotypes is to “not see color”, new research has suggested that is not an effective tactic. Despite the recent information circulating about the effects of prejudice, discussions about racial and cultural differences are often not discussed in households where both parents/guardians are white. In an article written by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they have concluded that by 6 months of age babies are already noticing racial differences. By the ages of 2-4, children have begun to show signs of racial bias, and by the age of 12, children are already set in their beliefs with regards to race. It is important to understand that the topic of race should be talked about before the child has encountered a racist interaction themselves.
So how do we, as parents, go about this?
There is no one standard way on how to educate children. Not only does every child learn differently, but every household is different as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends certain things to note when thinking about what to say to your children. Each of these things should be handled and addressed differently based on the age of the child:
Check in with your child.
Watch for changes in your child’s behavior for aggression, stress, or shyness. If these changes occur, contact your pediatrician.
Limit what your child sees in the media.
Be aware of your own emotions and bias.
Be a role model.
Have a wide, culturally diverse social network and encourage your children to do the same.
Travel and expose your children to other communities.
Get involved in your child’s school, your place of worship, and politics.
Use this teachable moment.
Resources can help.
Books designed to teach preschoolers and early grades about respecting differences: I Like Myself!, by Karen Beaumont, Illustrated by David Catrow Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae, Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees Strictly No Elephants, by Lisa Mantchev, Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo Two Speckled Eggs, by Jennifer K. Mann Willow, by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, Illustrated by Cyd Moore
Around the age of preschool, children are noticing several differences among people. It is important to use positive reinforcement in situations where it is brought up. For example, if your child asks about someone’s skin tone, you might say, “Isn’t it wonderful that we are all so different!” For grade-schoolers, this is usually the right age to have open discussions about race, culture, diversity, and racism and teach them to be brave and fight for racial equality when they see a situation that involves bias. It may even be helpful to point out stereotypes and racial bias in media and books so your child is aware of them. As a parent or guardian, you should be modeling the behaviors you want your children to follow and encouraging them to interact with people of different cultures.
There may also be times when you will be asked questions by children based on something they saw through media or an interaction they had at school. It is important to remember to ask your child about how they felt about the situation and restrain from self-emotion. Try to figure out where they heard these things to better understand the perspective of your child in that situation. It may even be beneficial to contact your pediatrician or a mental health specialist if you see any signs of stress or anxiety in your child’s behavior.
Navsaria, Dipesh. “Recommended Reading: Books to Build Character & Teach Your Child Important Values.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Books-to-Build-Character-Teach-Important-Values.aspx.
Anderson, Ashaunta, and Jacqueline Dougé. “Talking to Children About Racial Bias.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx.
Heard-Garris, Nia, and Jacqueline Dougé. “Talking to Children about Racism: The Time Is Now.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-about-Racism.aspx.