Black History Month is almost over, but the conversation about race (should) continue. It can be a challenging topic, especially for white parents of young kids. But the topic can also be tricky for parents of color. How much do you say, and when? How do you keep it simple but effectively communicate your own values with a toddler who just learned the word “Why” and deploys it to casually expose your own blind spots?
- Follow their lead, then build. Kids notice race very early, but around 2 or 3 years old, they may start verbally acknowledging race and asking questions about it. Do not ignore their comments or questions, change the subject, or downplay their curiosity or observations. Answer their questions with straightforward simple statements like “Yes, people have many different skin colors. That’s what makes the world so beautiful, one color would be boring!” Then ask questions to see what they are ready to explore. Tailor your statements to your child’s age, the conversation will become more nuanced and detailed as they get older. For example, most kids aren’t developmentally ready to understand the concept of racism until they’re 4-6 years old.
- Lead by example. Don’t just talk about your values to your kids. It’s important to surround them with people who are different from them, especially if you are raising white children who may not see racial diversity around them. Be conscious of the diversity of characters in books or dolls you get your kids. Find films, art, and community spaces that will expose your children to other races. Be open to discussions during and after these experiences, and be honest if there is something you don’t know. Maybe this is something you can learn together!
- Keep going, keep talking. The conversations about race and racism with your kids will evolve over time. This is not a one-time conversation. If you demonstrate openness to their questions, your kids will continue the conversation as they begin observing more of the world. There are many resources available to support these conversations - we love this video of Sesame’s Abby Cadabby on CNN talking about racist bullying and the importance of taking a stance against it. Videos like this one should be followed up by open conversation with your child to help contextualize and process the material.
It’s important to have these conversations with your children. Silence and avoidance is powerful, and it can tell kids that race is a bad topic that you avoid. It’s important to push through your own discomfort, educate yourself, and bring your children along. For Black parents, race is often a painful topic, and choose to protect their kids this pain for as long as possible. Kids books can help provide some emotional guardrails for parents of color who are raw from experiences of racism, and for white parents who aren’t sure they have the language for such an important topic.