Talking To Kids About Race
Children are learning about shapes, sizes and colors before they get to kindergarten. Research shows when it comes to people, babies notice skin color as early as 6 months old.
Georgia Michalopoulou, PhD is chief of psychiatry/psychology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She told us toddlers as young as 2 to 3 years old “seem to have ideas and feelings about race and they use race to include or exclude peers in play situations, and also to negotiate power, so it’s pretty early.”
It seems logical that children would mimic the racial attitudes of their parents. But Dr. Michalopoulou says that’s not necessarily true. Children collect information from many different sources and that environment could be their educational environment, day care, school and friends in the neighborhood.
One way to give children a healthy attitude about race is to introduce them to people of different cultures. It can also be as easy as child’s play. Dolls are available in as many colors as people. Dr. Michalopoulou suggests not just buying dolls that look like your child, “perhaps buying baby dolls that are of different colors and ethnicities would be a way to communicate to a child that we all belong to the same human race, but there are variations — and that’s okay.”
Friends School in Detroit has a diverse student body. Pre-kindergarten teacher Cristin Graham says, “we’ll talk about how we’re not all the same and that’s great because if everyone was the same, it would be boring. And how would we recognize each other.
Ethnic festivals and celebrations are a good way to introduce children to a culture. But don’t avoid controversy. Dr. Michalopoulou says parents should talk about the fact some people treat others unfairly based on color or faith. That’s particularly important for children of color. “Because they have been subjected more, historically, to discrimination, it is a very important lesson in order to empower their children to handle situations that could potentially arise as they are growing up.
Friends Head of School, Edwin Harris says, “We have always been proponents of diversity because we believe that for our children to be leaders in the future world where we don’t have bigotry and hatred that we have today, our children need to grow up in that world and learn to love each other.