One of the many values I wish to teach my child is to grow up to be an empathetic adult. As an elementary educator and a mother, one of the phrases I hear myself repeating over and over again is “put yourself in another person’s shoes.”
It is no secret that Covid-19 has impacted many of our lives. Sadly, an additional crisis, a long standing racism, has also been rising to the surface. As a first generation American and a person of color, I am well aware of the existing level of racial inequalities as well as microaggression. However, with the intensified hate we witness today, the urgency for change and awareness is heightened. I am not an expert by any means, but here is my list of actions I am taking to raise a culturally responsive little human.
Being able to empathize means you are able to see the world through someone else’s lens. People with cultural empathy have appreciation and consideration for diverse cultures and as a result, are more tolerant of other backgrounds.
In our household, we talk about the ways to be an upstander. We acknowledge that not being a racist is not enough and learning about racism instead of experiencing it first hand is a privilege. Allyship is an incredibly important life lesson to raise a more inclusive generation of kids. Let your child know that the struggle for racial fairness is still an ongoing issue and that your family can take part in that struggle.
(Visit this Nikelodeon article to learn about the ways to teach your kids to be an ally. )
Talk about our history
Learning about the history of social justice movements serves as a great opportunity to discover the challenges that different groups have experienced. It also highlights admirable qualities of leaders: perseverance, righteousness, resilience, courage and more. These are the virtues many families would teach their kids, so why not feed two birds with one scone?
Most importantly, talking about the past can shed light on the current systematic racism. I am constantly surprised by how observant my preschooler can be. Kids are amazingly good at recognizing patterns, and it is not an exception when they see racially segregated neighborhoods. Instead of letting them form a false assumption based on what they see, have a conversation early on about how our history played a role.
One thing I’ve learned to be careful amid talking about history though is to not make generalization. When we teach history of certain ethnic groups ONLY on special occasions (Black history months or Lunar new year), we are framing these stories as foreign stories. Expose your child to diverse celebrations, foods, traditions and histories. Introduce your child to friends with various lifestyles, cultures and religions. Through these efforts, your child will understand that race is not a sole factor that defines who we are.
See the colors
Some may argue that using phrases like “We are all equal!” are sufficient, but it is important to note that kids as early as 3 months olds are capable of recognizing different skin colors (Kelley et al, 2005). These ideas may sound “positive” initially, but it could delay having an important conversation about race.
I try my best to be mindful of the content I surround my kids with. We make sure to read multicultural books written by diverse authors. While doing so, I often ask what he recognizes about the different characters- their appearance and their feelings. For older kids, you can also use the non-examples to highlight the problems of current media. Sit with your children when they are watching a show and point out any stereotypes you observe. Remember, we do not have to be an expert on race to be able to talk about it. When you are not sure what to say, just be honest and turn it into a learning opportunity.
Have explicit conversations
One of the things I love about parenthood is being able to fulfill my little one’s curiosity. I like to answer his questions by offering scientific facts, and I do the same when we have a conversation about race. My preschooler understands that different skin colors are determined by the amounts and the types of pigments called Melanin. He knows that people get more tanned in summer because sunlight enhances the production of Melanin. Understanding biology empowers our little ones to see the colors for what they are.
When it comes to naming the skin color, I describe the visible tones as well as the socially constructed names. My son makes an analogy such as shades of our bedroom dresser, a cardboard box or pink from Wiwiurka rocker when describing skin colors. I make sure to help him understand that we can and should talk about the colors we see.
I often plan activities that explicitly celebrate diversity. There are so many analogies we can make to teach that the outer appearance doesn’t define us. We use different colored eggs to cook omelette while talking about how the color of the shells didn’t change the flavor. My 3 years old makes a connection to our skin when he reads about the different color variation of ladybugs. Racial talk doesn’t always need to be serious. Let’s embrace it!
The only way to battle our racial biases is through continued effort to educate ourselves. I hope this post inspires your family to start thinking about the ways to talk about race and furthermore, how to teach inclusiveness at your homes.
Toys to teach diversity:
Diversity represented by the Dimkun doll collection (Ollie Ella).
Check out their booklist for carefully selected lists of multicultural and social justice books for all ages. www.socialjusticebooks.org
- PBS has a guide on how to have a conversation about race with your child – https://www.pbs.org/parents/talking-about-racism
- Classroom lesson plans for teaching tolerance and social justice, which can be easily modified to be used at home – www.learningforjustice.org/
- Visit the conscious kids page on instagram/website to learn more about multicultural educationVisit the conscious kids page on instagram/website to learn more about multicultural education – https://www.theconsciouskid.org