This week has been hard. We are 12 weeks into the stay-at-home-order. We are tired, we are restless, and we are longing for a “normal” summer break. We are longing for answers and a sense of what’s coming next. Not knowing our future is extremely challenging physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally children and adults.
This week has been hard, we did not know it could get harder. George Floyd’s death has made national and international news, thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country to express anger, frustration, and grief about police violence and injustice. The world is holding so much grief and anger right now.
We have choices to make. Actions to take.
We have reached a tipping point in our society, and our children are watching. Our children are watching, listening, and absorbing everything. Everything. Respect their future, their hearts, and their souls. We must not fail them- again. Every generation has a tipping point- a moment when nothing is the same as it was, our children in a span of 3 months will have TWO. Two events that changed “normal,” that changed how day-to-day life functioned, that changed their future.
The discussion of race and social justice are concepts we need to talk about with them. No, they are not too young. They are seeing and hearing the adults in thier lives express emotions and use big words. They hear the news, see parents reading and expressing frustration, and they see angry faces everywhere. They hear angry worried adults talking believing they are too little to understand or it would be too upsetting to talk to them about it. Adults- this is your hang up, your bias.
Children are not born with bias, judgement or prejudice - they learn it.
Believe in them and start talking.
We need to normalize talking about race, which starts with talking to children about race. Children begin to form a sense of self from the day they are born, based on their characteristics, preferences, and their identification with specific social groups. Children as young as 6 months old can recognize race-based differences, and by the ages of 2-4, children can identify and describe themselves using age, gender, and race labels. Children become more aware of how people look, noticing differences in gender presentation, in skin color, hair color, hair texture, even some qualities about facial features. This is the time to be talking to them about race, equity, and equality.
To create a culture of inclusiveness, we must first acknowledge our own biases. This comes before we talk to our children about race and ethnicity. It's about how your language, actions, and opinions about race and ethnic tolerance is modeled to your children. Your everyday actions and comments about this topic will leave an impact on your child! Engage in social circles with a variety of people, not just friends who look and think like you. As your child develops their own identity, you are modeling what friendship looks like; does your friend group fit a narrow description or are you surrounded by a culturally diverse social network?
Traveling can also help your child experience communities and cultures outside your home. Travel opens the eyes and heart of your child to inform their views with self experience. Children that travel young have broader world views are more open minded, have greater tolerance for all things different than them. Open yourself and your family up to multicultural experiences!
Toys, books, movies, media: all of these have an impact on how your child views race and ethnicity. Are all of the dolls in your home white? Are all the characters in your children’s books white? That is a problem. Not only is it important for all children to feel represented in the world, it is important for white children to see that their experience is not the only one. Research shows that explicitly talking about race with children creates more positive attitudes about people of different races.
If this feels uncomfortable, that’s okay! All things different and new are uncomfortable. We need to lean into that feeling and be curious about why that is. Changing generations worth of norms is difficult to say the least. It’s also minimal compared to the difficulties that people of color have been dealing with for lifetimes.
Let’s build a community of inclusiveness, no matter what skin tone you have. Below are some resources to help better support you and your family as you help explain recent events and begin your journey into curiosity.
Online event: Raising Anti-racist Kids
On Saturday 6/6, Sesame Street will have a special about Racism
From the American Association of Pediatrics: Talking to Children About Racial Bias
From the National Museum of African American History & Culture: Talking About Race
Something Happened in Our Town, a book for children about Racial Injustice
From Raising Race-Conscious Children: White Bias and Dolls: Helping Children Create Meaning around Race and Gender
Cary Hamilton, Sarah Moran, & Carrie Pipkin