Talk to Your Child About Race
The world is filled with diversity, and different cultures, races and languages are a consistent part of a child's daily life. As the population of the United States continues to grow, it will become increasingly more ethnically and racially diverse. According to a recent USA Today article, our country will be comprised of 15 percent non-Hispanic Blacks, 8 percent Asians and 24 percent Hispanics by the year 2043.
As young children begin to learn about their surroundings, it is natural for them to be curious about those who have different physical characteristics. They may want to know why another person has a different skin color, facial features or hair texture.
Many parents feel awkward or uncomfortable when their child asks a question about racial differences, but it can be a great opportunity to teach him or her to value unique qualities in others and to lay a solid foundation for tolerance and understanding. Despite popular belief, racial tolerance is not about being colorblind, but about recognizing and respecting the differences in others.
When talking to your child about race, consider the following 6 suggestions:
1. Establish Open Communication
Answer your child's questions about race in a simple and straightforward manner. Teach your child that differences are what make each person unique, but they don't make one person better or worse than another. You can also point out commonalities among different groups of people to help eliminate stereotypical views about other cultures.
2. Set a Good Example
Remember that children often model adult behavior. What parents and family members say and how they act toward others can directly influence a child's attitudes, beliefs and interactions with others. Pay attention to what you say in front of your child, and never allow generalizations, hateful expressions or racial jokes in your home.
3. Encourage Your Child to Learn About Others
Fill your child's library with books from around the world and about people from different cultures who have helped shape our world such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visit Web sites that have child-friendly ethnic crafts and recipes, or visit cultural museums and ethnic restaurants with your family.
4. Instill a Strong Sense of Ethnic Heritage
Locate books and movies that portray individuals of your race or ethnicity as positive role models. Talk to your child about leaders and historical figures of your race so that he or she will be proud of their heritage and identity. Establish support networks for your child among relatives, neighbors and the greater community to help build his or her self-esteem.
5. Celebrate Multicultural Heritages
Due to interracial marriages, blended families and international/transracial adoptions, the number of mixed-race families is increasing. Encourage multiculturalism by embracing the language, traditions and customs of every family member. If your child is multiracial, encourage him or her to celebrate and recognize all parts of his or her heritage. Support your child by helping him or her develop coping skills to handle questions and comments about his or her racial background.
6. Confront Discrimination
If your child is bullied or teased because of his or her race or ethnicity, reassure your child that he or she is beautiful and loved regardless of what others have said. Teach your child to deal with racism without feeling personally assaulted by explaining that people often resort to teasing when they don't understand a situation or issue. Share your personal experiences regarding racial insensitivity and how you overcame them. If your child continues to be taunted, you may want to meet with your child's teachers and discuss ways to address the situation.
In today's increasingly interconnected world, an understanding of others is an important factor in a person's success. Teaching your child about other cultures, languages, lifestyles and points-of-view not only provides them with a well-rounded education, but allows them to appreciate both the similarities and differences in others.
Sharen Hausmann is the executive director of Smart Start, the early childhood division of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta.