Raising Race-Conscious Kids in a Global World
As a mother to two beautiful girls who attend an international school where the student and staff body consist of more than 50 different nationalities and cultures, I always wanted my children to be kind to everyone and accept people without biases or stereotypes, and to expect to receive the same as well.
Now, my eldest daughter had a multitude of race questions after we enrolled her 5 years ago. Why is my hair not as soft as so and so’s, why is skin color so different, why do they eat other types of food, she is a black girl like me but she has an accent…
Thankfully, the school administration attended to such questions with such ease and kindness, so much so that we as parents also took away something from the experience. In a few months, our daughter was comfortable and confident with herself and really enjoys having a diverse group of friends.
If we didn’t take our kids to such a school, the race question may never have popped up and we would have probably swept it under the rug. Parents, I warn you, in a global world as we live in today, respect and knowledge of race and culture is something you HAVE to teach your children.
With very young children, toddlers and kindergarteners, we point out the colors of buses, fire trucks, and grass, as we teach them about the world. We’re naming all these things, but we’re not talking about people’s colors, such us, look at the little brown-skinned girl sitting with a girl with pale skin girl. Ultimately, before you can teach more higher-level critical thinking, you have to have this language in your toolbox such as talking about skin tones as a way to show the differences between races.
In some ways, it’s really odd that there’s this whole description that we’re not addressing. It teaches kids that race is not okay to talk about. When parents are silent, children make up their own stories as to why.
We live in a world where in subtle ways, we see and hear about white privilege, racist remarks, xenophobia, in restaurants, at school, at the shopping mall. We as parents have a duty to educate our children about these things. Depending on their age, children need to be sensitized to such topics.
My eldest daughter who is almost 10 will learn more deeply about spotting the signs of racism or knowing when she has been disrespected in a conversation and being able to react appropriately and calmly to such situations. My toddler who is almost 3 on the other hand, should learn that differences are good just the same way there are different colors of the rainbow and not just one.
Some parents falsely believe they are raising their children to be more inclusive by teaching them to be “colorblind” and that if they don’t talk about color or race, their children will see everyone as the same. Acknowledging differences is a key part of raising awareness and making sure people feel seen and that their backgrounds and lived experiences are valued.
And without parents guiding these conversations, other influences from media, peers, and society will likely shape children’s ideas about race.
It’s normal and natural for children to observe and point out differences. It’s our responsibility to help them celebrate these differences and understand how they may affect our lives.
Having a diverse friend group is important, as much as it’s possible. Interaction helps children, in particular, break down biases they would have otherwise believed.
Engaging in new cultural experiences opens kids’ eyes to how other people live in their country and in the world. If there’s no exposure to experiences and people that are different from you, the default will likely be negative exposure.
As a parent, it is common knowledge that children observe and learn a lot from our interactions and what isn’t said directly to them. The way we show and stand up for our values is very important. When you see something, say something. And your kids will learn to do the same.
And then give them the tools to do the same when they encounter racism at school or among peers. It doesn’t need to be confrontational. It can be as simple as teaching them to say “I’m uncomfortable with what you said” or “I don’t think that’s right or nice to say.”
There is no one right way to talk to children about race and it should be more than a single conversation. Families should continue talking about race and educating themselves so they can learn together. It will take a consistent effort over time
We should help children understand that skin color doesn’t make anyone better or worse.