“Mommy, why is daddy’s skin so brown and yucky?” The question that rocked my world and changed the way I parent forever. Believe it or not, your child notices race…and by that I mean skin color and outward appearances. They haven’t figured out how to classify it yet. That is where we come in. Our actions and reactions teach our kiddos how to view and understand these differences. Instead of leaving it up to chance, talk with your kids about race and diversity. Not sure how to do that? No worries my friends, you’ve come to the right place. Pull up a seat. Let’s explore how to talk to preschoolers about race together.
How to talk to preschoolers about race:
Tip 1: Begin conversations about race early
It is never too early to talk with kids about race. In fact, the sooner you start the better. Kids as young as six months begin to notice race. By the age of twelve, children become “set in their beliefs”. Which means you have a mere twelve years to raise empathetic, racially aware children. If you wait around until they are “old enough to get it”, you just might wait too long. Be proactive, start teaching your kids about race today.
Tip 2: Don’t Scold, Ask Questions
I love the quote, from Epictetus “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Apply this advice to all sensitive subjects, especially this one. If your child makes a racist comment (Mommy I can’t play with her. Her brown skin looks dirty) don’t judge or jump to conclusions. First, ask questions:
- What makes you think that?
- Do you know why her skin is brown?
- Do you know anyone else with brown skin?
Tip 3: Explain the Facts about Race
Once you’ve explored your child’s thought process a little bit, explain the facts. Here’s my go-to, child-appropriate answer to explain why people have different skin colors (if you need one):
Some people’s ancestors (or great-great-grandparents for little guys who aren’t ready for the word ancestor) lived somewhere warm and so they needed extra melanin in their skin to protect them from the sun. That made their skin darker, like built in sunscreen. Everything about us, our skin color, eye color, hair, etc are all gifts passed down from our ancestors to remind us of them.
The world groups people together by their colors and call that their race. Some people believe that lighter skin makes you “better” but that is not true. Our skin color doesn’t decide what kind of people we are or what we are able to do. It is important to be nice to all people, no matter what they look like on the outside. Inside, we all look exactly alike. We are all people.
Tip 3: Add Racial Diversity to your Space
Instead of just picking up the first book off the shelf, add books with racially diverse characters and multicultural toys to your home. If your child isn’t drawn to them at first, that may be an internal racial bias that needs some push back. Intentionally pick up the toys and sit down to play with your child. Make a safe space to talk about the differences your child is observing. Make racial diversity a part of your child’s everyday life.
Tip 4: Emphasize the Beauty of Diversity
Diversity is a beautiful thing. Make sure you emphasize that when talking to your child.
We are all different. Point that out to your child as often as possible. Emphasize the differences within your own family and what makes each person unique. Help your child to see that differences are something to celebrate, not fear.
Tip 5: Have fun while talking about race
Download our free Talking to Children About Race Ebook and try one of the six fun activities to help spark conversations about race with your child. You and your family will have a blast while setting the foundation for an empathetic, racially aware child.
Tip 6: Analyze your Own Views of Race
The most difficult part of having these conversations well is that our own racial bias and ideas get in the way. We all have them. Our biases, or cultural lens, form the way we think and interact with the world around us.
If your child’s questions or comments make you feel uncomfortable, it may be because their questions are challenging your own deep-seated racial biases.
If you think this may apply to you, consider taking Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test, reading some books about race, or listening to podcasts to help you have a better understanding of the issues. Be the Bridge has some great recommendations.
Tip 7: Walk the Talk
If you tell your child all about the value of diversity but never actually spend time with people who have a different background than your own, you are sending your child mixed messages. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and meet people who may not look or think like you. Growth begins when you step out and take a risk.
We have to take them time to learn about one another and from one another in order to do this journey better. This is a long-term, lifelong process. Never stop learning.
Don’t forget to download our FREE Ebook full of expert advice, conversation guides, and recommendations for talking to preschoolers about race so that you and your child can continue learning and growing together.