Written by Danielle Young, Outpatient Supervisor
Racism can be a difficult subject to confront for children of any age and finding the right words to explain it can sometimes feel impossible. How we create a better future for all starts with the ways we teach our children about their attitude, words, and beliefs about one another. Here are 5 steps you can start taking to raise your children to be anti-racist and to understand inclusion. Everything we do as parents impacts our children in some way and the subject of race is no different. The most important factor is that we want children to learn not only see color but to understand differences and appreciate color; we do not want to raise children who think they are color blind. So, let’s jump into the steps!
Step 1: Books! Books are a great way to teach, educate, and promote attachment with your children. When selecting books, take a look through them first and ask yourself these questions: What race are the characters in the book? If characters are of a different race, which character trait are they representing? Are people of color being portrayed in a positive or negative way? Proactively build a dynamic, diverse library. Look for books that discuss stories of race, culture, and religion. It’s great for children to learn about all kinds of people and beliefs. During the December holiday season, incorporate books about religious holidays other than your own. Read books about different cultures and stories of those who differ from your family. The more we learn and discuss, the more we grow and understand one another!
Step 2: Toys! Be mindful when selecting toys. Take a look around your current toy area; are all of the people, dolls, or action figures white? If the answer is yes, invest in figures that show a greater diversity in skin color or ethnic styles. When selecting toys, check to see who is depicted on the packaging. You may notice that they are primarily white. The representation of children on the packaging sends messages to our children of who can or should enjoy these toys – and participates in the false idea that “white” is our baseline, and those of other races are different.
You may already think about your child’s toys in terms of gender diversity – many parents purposefully buy tool sets for girls and baby dolls for boys so they can foster all aspects of their personality. This is similar! If you look around and realize your toys are all one race, start now. There are a beautiful array of different representations in the world – you may just have to look a little harder to find them. When you offer more options, you might be surprised what your child is drawn to or the questions they ask.
Step 3: Language/modeling! As we mentioned before, everything that parents do or say directly impacts their children in some way. Children look to their parents for modeling expectations, language, boundaries, and safety. This comes through in both verbal and non-verbal communication. Pay attention to how you ask when you are interacting with people different from you. When you are with people of a different race, what are your non-verbal’s saying? Do you find yourself walking quickly when you pass a black man on the street? Do you ever lock the door in specific neighborhoods? Even if you are very thoughtful about your verbal language, subconscious biases can sneak through in many ways that you might not even be aware of.
If and when you notice biased reactions in yourself, look at it as an opportunity for growth. You can actively work through your own prejudices and biases alongside your children; modeling the value of growth and learning.
Step 4: Activities! It’s important for children to be involved in activities such as sports, music, gymnastic, theater, etc. to assist with creating social skills and connection. As parents, you have the opportunity to decide where you want to sign your children up for activities. Are your children engaging in activities with peers of only their own race and background or is there some diversity? It can take a little research, but look for different opportunities where children come together from a wider range of neighborhoods. Perhaps you find an art class in the city, or a summer camp that is 10 minutes of a longer drive, but is worth it because it expands your child’s network! Thoughtfully and purposefully choosing to bring your child to activities that include lots of types of people will be something that will inform their development as they grow.
Step 5: Community! Being intentional on where you take your children and who they socialize with will help your children see and appreciate color. Where can you take your child to see and interact with people outside of your neighborhood? When it’s safe, consider visiting different parks in new places – it’s a great way to start. While you’re there, tune into how you are interacting with the other caregivers or families that are using the shared space. It’s important to engage and play just as you would in your own back yard! It’s also super fun and educational to visit different museums and attend cultural events. In Philadelphia, we love the African American Museum and the National Museum of American Jewish History. While there, lean into learning yourself along with your children. Being involved in the community as well as in a community outside of our own has so many wonderful benefits!
There are many ways to make inclusion, equity and anti-racism a part of your daily life. These five steps are just one of a few ways that you can start today. Each of these steps are also a great time for self-reflection and continued learning for all caregivers. Remember that every step you take encourages their growth in inclusivity. Being mindful and active about the ways you want to raise your children is a big part of the journey.