hwo to talk to children about racism early

REMAINING SILENT IS NOT AN OPTION

How to talk to children about racism is a very important and dear subject to me. As a proud Peruvian woman, mother, sister, friend, and business owner of Black and Latina descent, I have made cultural diversity, inclusion, equality, and respecting others a part of my life’s work at Rayito de Sol. It is an honor to be a part of growing an organization whose primary focus is to provide care for children while bringing them learning experiences that expose them to language

competency, cultural awareness, and reverence for themselves and others.

Through time and my own experiences, I have learned how important it is to start talking to your children about the topics of equality, diversity, cultural awareness, and racism as early as possible to educate your child properly. These are conversations that should be explored and evolve throughout a person’s lifetime.

DEFINITION OF RACISM

To properly teach, you must clearly understand and be able to define the topic at hand. I think that it is imperative that early on, children are provided a definition of racism that they can understand, depending on their age group, and that parents can use it as a platform to continue to build on as the child develops. 

TEACH BY EXAMPLE

Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. Parents must be actively engaged in raising their children to be anti-racist and inclusive. One of the most effective ways for parents to teach their children is by exhibiting the correct and expected behaviors and actions.

Parents can teach by example by:

  • exhibiting anti-racist and culturally aware behavior,
  • addressing racism honestly and openly when it is presented and having age-appropriate discussions with their child regarding the matter,
  • participating in social groups or activities that are focused on diversity, inclusion, and equality,
  • using language and words that encourage positive perceptions when discussing people of another race,
  • not being afraid to talk about racism, race, equality, and diversity with your child. These topics should never be perceived as taboo at any stage in your child’s life,

The discussions that parents have regarding discrimination and race may be different and depend upon a variety of factors, including the racial makeup of the family members and the perspective of the individual who is facilitating the discussion on race and racism.  

START THE CONVERSATION EARLY

Families should feel comfortable approaching the topic of racism as early as possible and begin by using relatable methods to your child’s age group and comprehension level.

Studies performed in childhood development have shown that very young children can understand differences and similarities in their appearance and compare themselves to other people they meet. Having positive concepts regarding skin color, race, ethnicity, and culture at an early age will help parents build the groundwork to ensure their child is free from negative biases.

Providing early exposure to a diverse group of people, languages, foods, sounds, toys, and images will create positive associations that will help develop an anti-racist and culturally competent child.

Providing the same continued exposures while adding additional age-appropriate conversations with toddlers and preschoolers that become teachable moments will help them recognize there are beautiful differences in all of us. These differences or similarities do not make us any less human, any less wonderful, any less worthy. Our differences make us distinct from each other and provide an

opportunity for discovery and appreciation.

As language skills continue to develop, children will begin verbally identifying what they see as different in other people they meet. When children start questioning racial or cultural differences, you should use these moments to have candid conversations that can lead to a greater understanding of why racism is unacceptable and harmful and how to combat racism.

AVOID BEING COLOR-BLIND 

The term “color-blind” is often misconceived as an acceptable ideology that, although it may have good intentions, does not identify race-based differences that should not be ignored. It also avoids addressing inequality and social injustice and is no different than ignoring racism exists altogether. This is important when talking to children about racism.

The focus should be placed on being anti-racist, not avoiding what makes a group of people different. Ignoring or remaining silent about racial injustice is not an option.

KEY POINTS FOR PARENTS

  • Be honest about racial disparity, inclusion, equality, and respect.
  • Be prepared to have open conversations, listen, and ask many questions to understand how your child perceives the world around them. When your child asks an unfiltered question related to racism, be prepared to answer it openly and in the moment.
  • Create an environment where your child feels safe and comfortable asking questions.
  • Expose your child to diversity in people, places, cultures, foods, languages, and religions.
  •  The more positive exposure a child has will provide them with a greater competency when it comes to knowing how to understand, actualize, and celebrate the differences in people of different racial backgrounds.
  • Teach your child about self-respect and dignity. Children need to learn how to be proud of who they are without undermining others.
  • If you have experienced racial injustice or discrimination in your lifetime, use your experiences to teach your child.
  • Advocate for change. Words are powerful tools but being involved in activities that inspire positive change gives your child compelling examples of making a difference in the world.

It remains disturbingly apparent that we live in a time where racial injustice still exists, and we need everyone to continue to speak up and take positive action.

At Rayito de Sol, we focus on ensuring children have a greater understanding and appreciation for the beauty that other cultures, languages, places, and people have to offer. Being inclusive requires understanding our own biases to identify and address those that may be negative, harmful to others, or even unjust. This is key to being a champion when talking to children about racism.

I encourage our families to take an active and serious approach towards working with their children to build a foundation that unequivocally rejects racism. Our responsibility is to speak up, have the hard conversations, and make a conscious choice to teach our children not to tolerate racism or racial injustice. Remaining silent is not an option.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Luisa Fuentes

CEO | Rayito de Sol

Other Articles To Consider:

UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/talking-to-your-kids-about-racism

PBS: https://www.pbs.org/parents/talking-about-racism