As you scroll through your Facebook feed, click through the Washington Post, or see passing headlines on CNN, you’re probably noticing that race is a looming topic in our country right now. Your children, as they get older, will become more curious about race and racism, and it’s important to let them know that they can come to you when they need to process their feelings about race. It’s imperative that you have these conversations so that you can impart your values to your children. Otherwise, they may learn language or perspectives that are not aligned with your family’s views. Experts agree that raising “colorblind” children is actually not healthy for their perspective on race; honesty and open conversation about differences, and letting kids know that difference is OK and can be celebrated, is good for kids and good for their relationships with kids of different races.
Sometimes the best introduction to a conversation about the basics of race is by representing different races in the books, television, and movies your child consumes. Make sure your child’s books feature diverse characters, and as you read, don’t be afraid to name race, pointing out the heritage or ethnicity of the characters you see. Don’t feel a need to make every book a conversation about race, but you can occasionally remark on a character’s race the way you might talk about the color of their hair or the activities they like to do. Books like The Snowy Day, Seven Chinese Sisters, and The Skin You Live In are great additions to any kid’s library.
You may also want to have proactive conversations about race with your kids, especially as they get older and their curiosity develops. On a very basic level, they may be curious about a child at preschool who is of a different race, and it’s OK to say, “Did you know that Anjali’s parents are from India? Maybe we can read about Diwali since that’s a holiday her family is celebrating this fall.” On a more complex level, your children may be overhearing conversations about the rallies in Charlottesville. You can let them know that there are some people in this country who are not very nice to people of another race, and talk to them about the importance of being kind to everyone, regardless of differences, and teaching kids to stand up to kids who might say something cruel about another child because of their race.
Of course, get ready for reactive conversations. Your child may come out and tell you about language they heard at the playground between two children, and will ask you what it meant. Your child may ask you why people are angry at other people of other races. Think about the news, the conversations you have with other adults, and the posts you see online, and your own feelings on these topics. Once you are firm about where you stand on race, racial differences, and racism, you can translate your own point of view into language that is more appropriate for your young children.
Have you spoken with your children about race or racism? What are some resources you have found helpful? How have these conversations gone for your family? Let us know in the comments section.