#celebratecolour - Talking to our children about race

Studies reveal that by age 2, children start sorting themselves into groups, showing what is known as in-group bias. In other words, kids in the playground might choose to play with children who are more like them, while excluding others.

As a mum to a mixed child, I’ve experienced seeing my daughter being studied and shied away by other children in a playground and yes, it can be a totally natural response, but there are times I've wondered, is it because she’s a different colour to them all? Chia obviously doesn’t notice at the moment, but the thought that one day her colour could be an issue to someone, is difficult.

Babies as young as 3 months old can tell races apart, so as parents to our little leaders we should be proactive about taking on any negative attitudes early on in their lives. Don’t shy away from using terms like Black or White to describe skin tone! We’ve talked about skin colour a handful of times at home and it’s 50/50 on who bought it up first. Chia will have heard Ogo talking about being black and so she comfortably describes him as having black skin. She independently calls herself and her brother brown, she used to call me pink(!) but now seems settled on white. This is a language she will grow up feeling ok with.

I think, from my own experiences, that often white people can feel awkward and shy away from the topic, but if overcoming any awkwardness can mean that a child of colour can potentially grow up mentally healthy and unaffected by racism then it’s worth getting over. Not speaking about race can make it seem like an impolite subject and can leave children to draw conclusions of their own, potentially helping to reinforce the notion that racial inequalities that exist are natural.

Children who encounter racism, can be left feeling lost while trying to understand why they are being treated a certain way, which in turn can impact their long-term development and well-being (UNICEF) If your child ever expresses a racial prejudice, ask about it instead of shutting it down immediately. You could ask, “What makes you say that?” to help get to their thought process and the root of it, so that you can look at it together. Then, keep the conversation about race going, rather than a single “talk” so your child will feel confident in asking you questions and telling you how they feel.

Remember, kids don’t just follow what you say but what you do. So if you want them to be kinder, fairer and more inclusive, be sure to model that in your own life. Could you be doing more? Exposing your child to a diverse range of people, stories and characters from a young age can help to develop a positive attitude to inclusivity, widen out a child’s view of the world, make them less accepting of stereotypes and less intimidated by difference. Let's work together and Empower the New Generation!

Sources:
Barnados.org.uk
Nspcc.org.uk
Unicef.org
BBC.co.uk