If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. You are at the store and your child innocently asks, “Mommy…why is his skin so brown?” You cringe, Your face tingles and turns red. Maybe you even scold your child and tell him or her that is not an appropriate question. Unfortunately for you, it is a very appropriate question and one all parents need to know how to answer. The good news is, these conversations don’t have to be difficult or uncomfortable. Keep reading to find out how to talk to preschoolers about race.
How to talk to preschoolers about race:
Tip 1: Begin the conversations about race early
It is never too young to talk with kids about race. In fact, the sooner you start the better. Kids as young as six months begin to notice race. However, by the age of twelve, children become “set in their beliefs”. The good news is, you have twelve years to raise empathetic, racially aware children. The bad news is, if you do nothing, they will form those beliefs anyway, based on the world around them. Be proactive, teach your kids about race before the world does.
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 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 just 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 to them the real, factual why people have different skin colors. Here’s my go-to, child-appropriate answer if you need one:
Their 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. 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 the white race is better than the other races 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 just people.
Tip 3: Add Racial Diversity to your Space
If your child is accustomed to seeing people who don’t look like him or her and those who do, you will be less likely to have one of those uncomfortable questions come up in the middle of the supermarket. Instead, you will =be teaching your child from the beginning the diversity is part of life.
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.
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 in some way. Point that out to your child. 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 you yourself are grappling with some 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 spend your time praising 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.
Want more great ideas to help you talk to preschoolers about race? Download our FREE Ebook full of expert advice, conversation guides, and recommendations for talking to preschoolers about race.