Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Taking with Very Young Children About Racism

I just got an excellent question from a mom in our community letting me know she'd like to address the Protests and Anti-Racism movement happening in the United States right now with her young children and asked if I had any suggestions. Yes! I do!

The age 2-6 is a time when children are just beginning the process of self discovery. They make blunt observations about differences they see around them. "Why is that person so fat?" they may say, or "Her hair is different". It's important to understand that these comments are not discriminatory in nature, but are rather mere observations. They may, however make us adults very uncomfortable and we may not know how to respond other than "You can't say that, it's hurtful to others."  

Racism, discrimination, and intolerance, in contrast, are learned behaviors that children absorb from the larger culture and their surrounding environment, starting from their home. The experiences and environments that children are surrounded by at this age are literally shaping their brain. That puts enormous pressure on us, the adults, to surround them with examples of tolerance, acceptance and compassion for all beings. 

So the best way I can think of to cultivate anti-racist behavior in children is embodying it ourselves. We must look deeply into our own conditioning, the way we talk, the biases we hold, the discriminations that we may unconsciously be teaching and communicating to our children and educate ourselves first, before we seek to educate the children. There is no greater teacher for your child than to see you actively challenging discriminatory remarks or actions. 

Other things you can do are make sure your home environment and the people included in your social circle reflect diversity and acceptance. Books that feature diverse communities in non-stereotypical ways, TV shows and movies that actively challenge biases, and most importantly, your verbal recognition of the talents, contributions and gifts of people of all ethnicities directly to your child may also be a start. 

For some resources I've found helpful for myself, please see the links below:

If you decide you want to bring up the incidents happening in the US (and in other countries), you can follow our simple guidelines for talking with little children about difficult topics: Keep it true and brief. Ask them questions and follow their lead.

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