November 17, 2022 by Sarah Brown 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: How My Three Year Old’s Comment Helped Us Change Our Family’s Approach to Race

When Auggie was 3, he surprised me with the off-handed comment that “only grownups could have brown skin, and not children.” It really took me aback. We live in NYC after all, a city with so many different kinds of people!

My first impulse was to remind him of the friends he had who were black. But … I could think of one. The more I thought about it, our neighborhood has a lot of white people. Our nursery school has children who speak many languages, whose family come from many different countries, but again, nearly no families of color, or those that look different from him on the outside. He has had black teachers, we have black grown up friends. He didn’t have friends who were children of color, and as preschoolers do, he decided something about the world, based on the information presented to him. 

We spent a lot of Auggie’s daily life in largely white spaces — white neighborhoods, white schools. NYC is so diverse and also so segregated. And we hadn’t really talked about race before, because he hadn’t brought it up.

How We Responded

We made some conscious changes based on this initial conversation: visiting more playgrounds and areas of the city more frequently, where children and families did not all look the same. I realized in choosing early picture books for Auggie, I had told myself that most of the characters were animals anyway, so I didn’t need to worry too much about representation. I realize now that when he wasn’t in an environment where there were children of color, books were a primary place we could surround ourselves with diverse friends. 

Auggie is 6 now, and we talk about race often, with conversations often motivated by him. While I wished that conversation when he was 3 had been the big shift, it was actually the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 that did it. We marched, we explained, we talked about all the ways our country isn’t fair for people of color.

“Fair” is very important for the 4-6 set, and it resonated with him. He points out when books leave folks out, or have “old ideas” now. His elementary school was particularly chosen for its diverse student body, and focus on social justice. It really helps me to have a village of supports around him to bring up these conversations again and again. I’m a progressive educator, and always approached a lot of my child’s learning by letting it emerge from him and his interests.

But I learned that these topics may not emerge on their own, particularly if my son is surrounded by others who look only like him.

It’s our job as parents to provide and build a community who is diverse and inclusive, to provoke these conversations, and to point out and stand up ourselves for things that aren’t fair in the world around us.

November 17, 2022 by Ida Mhunduru 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Facing Race with My Toddler

This is not a subject I thought about when I saw that positive line on the pregnancy test. When I found out I was having a little girl, I didn’t think of this subject. Even as they placed her on my chest, and seeing her face for the first time, I did not think about this subject. I didn’t have think about how the world would receive her, if she would be accepted, and loved just as she is. I didn’t because I was her world. However, as she began to grow and enter into new spaces, I did begin to think of this subject, and a lot.

Since we are blessed with a wide variety of trusted friends and family from diverse backgrounds and cultures, I wasn’t prepared for the bias and prejudices children and families can face based on the color of their skin. It wouldn’t be until a couple of years later that I would experience this first hand.

My toddler and I were visiting family and this particular family member lived in an upper-middle class, gated community. Knowing the code to enter the property, I punched the numbers on the keypad, and drove through the opening gate. I noticed a car behind me as I drove through the neighborhood. The car took every turn I took and followed closely. I then entered the driveway of my family member. I had the code to their garage and a key and all I needed to do was unload our bags and my daughter and head inside.

The car pulled in front of the driveway and waited. I immediately knew why this inquisitive neighbor stayed there watching, and why they had followed me. It was because they did not think I belonged there. It was because they thought me to be suspicious.

After realizing they were going to stay there, I began to panic. Within seconds, I thought what if they have already called the police to share their concerns about me? What if the police arrived and my explanation about why I was there was insufficient?  What if my daughter witnessed them handcuff me while they got more information, or something far worse?

I called out to the car and asked if they needed anything. They pulled up slightly. It was then, I realized they were afraid of me. I walked over to the garage and entered the code. As the garage opened, they decided to drive away.

I was distraught and had to hide my tears from my toddler. I have made it my mission since then to ensure my daughter will never be on either end of that horrible experience.

I prepare my child for moments like these first and foremost with teaching her how to affirm, accept, and love herself. We daily celebrate who she is inside and outside! It is also vital that I teach her to love and accept others. We are intentional with regularly learning about people from cultures different than ours.

November 17, 2022 by Rebecca Parlakian, MA, Ed. 0 Comments

When You’re White: Talking About Race with Toddlers

Part of a three-year-old’s job is to figure out how their world works. Of course, people are the most important part of a young child’s world. So it’s no surprise that toddlers are curious about the differences they see in the people around them, including differences related to race. Research tells us that white parents find it difficult talking about race with children. But when children get the message — even inadvertently — that race is something “we don’t discuss,” it teaches them there’s something uncomfortable or even bad about noticing and talking about skin color.

So what should you do instead?

Here are some tips on how parents CAN introduce the topic of race to their young children.

Start with you. 

What’s been your own experience with race and bias? How has your family talked about race? What do you want your child to learn about race and bias? Thinking about what beliefs you want to share with (and nurture within) your child is an important starting point.

Use descriptive, unbiased language.

When toddlers point out differences in skin color, they aren’t being racist: they are observing what they see in their world. You can validate their observations in an unbiased way: Yes, Kira’s skin is a different color than your skin. Her skin is brown, your skin is a pinky-tan color. Everybody’s skin color is a little different.

Correct misunderstandings without shaming.

Three-year-old children approach the world with a growing (but still immature) world view. Children may share an idea they have come up with on their own or perhaps they will share something they have heard people discuss around them. It’s important to clearly correct their misunderstandings without shame or judgment. For example, a white toddler may mistake a black child’s curly hair as messy. He might tell his parents, “Malachi doesn’t comb his hair.” This gives parents an opportunity to say, “Everybody’s hair looks different. Malachi’s hair is curly. Yours is straight. Malachi’s grown-ups help him take care of his hair, just like we help you take care of yours.”

Offer your child access to a diverse world.

When you’re selecting early education programs or play groups, include diversity as an item on your checklist. Did you know: Attending a diverse preschool and building cross-race friendships increases the chance that children will show less racial bias when they enter school — all the way through third grade?

Representation matters.

Choose children’s books with main characters representing different races and ethnicities. Do the same when selecting toys like dolls or action figures. Play music from a variety of cultures. If you choose to share screen media with your child, look for programs that feature diverse characters and settings (consider Sesame Street; Blues Clues & You; Doc McStuffins; Jelly, Ben & Pogo or Bubble Guppies — just a few suggestions!). Local cultural events are also a great way of exposing children to new cultures, languages, and people in their community.

Remember that it’s not “one and done.” 

Discussions about race will happen hundreds of times during your child’s life. Don’t feel pressured to cover every topic in one conversation. Keep the lines of communication open. There will be plenty of chances to return to these issues again and again as your child matures.

The experiences we find hardest in parenting are often the moments that help us grow the most as people. Open, non-judgmental discussions about race, even when they feel uncomfortable, are powerful. They shape our children’s worldview and help them to understand themselves and others. Most importantly, these discussions give children the model and motivation to build a more just and equitable future for everyone.