While taking a recent weekend trip to Orlando, my daughter just had to visit the Magic Kingdom, I caught up on a couple of TED Talks. Obviously, I wasn’t able to watch as many I wanted, but there one talk that really stood. It was educator Liz Kleinrock discussing how she approached the topics of racism in her fourth-grade class after one student asked, “Why are some people racist?” This prompted another student, to respond with this, “Maybe some people don’t like black people because their skin is the color of poop.”
As a parent or teacher, there will be times when we’ll have these uncomfortable conversations with children. And, it can be terrifying. Kleinrock’s advice “is to begin by building a common language. And that actually starts with destigmatizing topics that are typically deemed taboo,” such as racism and consent. She also believes that these conversations should start at a young age.
As a parent, the topics that you choose to discuss with your children, and when, are up to you. I somewhat agree with “the sooner the better” logic. It would probably be doing a disservice to your child if these uncomfortable talks take place when they’re older. Studies have found that preschoolers around the age of three begin to notice race and may even start making hurtful statements. So, yeah. Please don’t wait to have these conversations.
But, how can you approach these issues with your children? Here are 6 tips to get you started.
- Don’t overreact. Your children will make comments or ask questions that are inappropriate. Address what they said in a non-judgemental way.
- Acknolwdge differences and similarities. Don’t overdo this. But, when there is an opportunity to talk about race, disability, or gender equality stick to facts while also avoiding labels and stereotypes. Also, provide a sense of commonality to overcome the “us” and “them” mentality.
- Use age-appropriate and respectable language. Remember, you’re talking to children here so use terms they’ll understand. Varda Epstein, a writer on kars4kids.org, also suggests, “When talking to kids about disabilities it’s important to use the right terminology. Children are always watching and listening, so we need to be careful with our speech. For instance, it’s important to make a distinction between the disability and the person who lives with it. It’s better, for instance, to speak of someone as ‘having autism’ or being ‘on the autism spectrum’ as opposed to saying, ‘He’s autistic.'”
- Discuss your children’s feelings. There are some topics, unfortunately like school shootings, where you need to first check-in with your own emotions before discussing how your child is feeling. Don’t shy away from these feelings because it will help them process what’s going on. You may also want to consider getting your little one help as well.
- Seek out diversity. Again, you don’t want to go overboard. But, surround children with books and arts featuring characters from different races. Take them to events, like cultural festivals or parade, where they interact with a wide range of people.
- Model your own behavior. Finally, kids learn a lot from their behavior from what we say or do. Start using more inclusive language and breaking down your own stereotypes.
While this was in no way an extensive list, the tips listed above can at least help you begin to get over your fear of discussing diversity and difference with your children. And, if you have any advice, please leave us a comment so that other moms can implement it.