By: Blanca Torres, Intern
The experience and memories you observe as a child often shape who you are as an adult. At our youngest, we are most vulnerable. Children who experience racism can have long-term effects and even trauma. For children, the effects of racism often present themselves through anxiety and depression. Racism makes them feel as if they do not belong and as the “other”. This is often referred to as “minority stress”. For caregivers addressing racism and prejudice can be a difficult topic to bring up.
So when should you talk to a child about racism? It is never too early to speak to children about racism. In a study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was found that children can by 6 months identify differences on the basis of race and by ages, 4-6 begin to internalize racial bias. By age 4 they can identify basic racial stereotypes and by age 9 their own cultural group and where they stand in society.
It is important for kids to know how to identify racism and how to approach it. Below are some suggestions from various studies on how to approach this difficult topic with kids.
- Take a step back and first acknowledge your own implicit bias
Be aware of your own biases and prejudices before beginning a conversation. Practice what you’d like to say, first be comfortable with the topic yourself.
- Teach them to speak up and be allies when discrimination is seen
Offer scenarios and activities in which they can use their active voice to support others when discrimination is present.
- Discuss media and technology
Media plays a key role in shaping prejudices against minorities. Limit consumption of negative portrayals and violence. Show the positive roles of POC on TV.
- Teach them to recognize and celebrate these differences
When they begin to recognize differences within themselves and others, acknowledge them and teach them it’s normal. There is no “other”.
- Be age appropriate
Children process knowledge differently depending on age. Don’t be too harsh too soon. It is a learning curve.
- Create a Safe Space
Be open with your children. Don’t punish them for pointing out differences, use it as a learning opportunity.
Just like adults, children are a product of their environment. We must take every opportunity that comes our way to confront racism and actively teach kindness. Children learn by example, when you see discrimination acknowledge it and combat it. Remember there is no one way to approach conversations on racism, however by keeping the conversation going we can aid in developing children’s understanding of it.