Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111
www.habitot.org

Parenting Q&A
Parenting Question of the Month

How can I help my child avoid learning racial stereotypes?
Parenting Q&A

This month of Black History celebration and the recent inauguration of our first African American president remind us all that the world has truly shifted. Our role as parents in preparing our children to live in a multicultural and multiracial society has never been more clear. First and foremost, we parents must be aware of our own attitudes and assumptions about others so that we can successfully raise our children to respect and appreciate diversity. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

• Acknowledge Differences in a Positive Way: It is inevitable that children will pick up on differences in skin color, hair texture, family structures, etc., from a very young age. Be aware of, but try not to express, any uncomfortable feelings you may have when these questions come up and respond in a matter-of-fact way. For example, if your child notices that another child's skin is much lighter or darker than his own, comment that it's true that people come in many different colors. For older children you can talk about why that is -- that skin colors are different because of the amount of sunlight where someone's ancestors came from. Darker skins are protective against the sun. Lighter skins more easily absorb sunlight to make vitamin D. For younger children, using everyday examples can also help children understand differences without making them a big deal, “Just like ice cream, people come in all different flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and caramel, and they all taste good!”

• Be a Good Role Model: While we all know that it is wrong to say racial slurs or be overtly racist, children can easily pick up on subtle messages that are prejudicial. Sometimes even the occasional laugh at a racial or cultural joke can give your child the wrong impression. Communicating fear, anxiety or mistrust of people with lighter or darker skin colors than one's own is perhaps the most subtle and damaging. Speak out against prejudice if you see or hear it, including calling out stereotypes -- even one example of someone who doesn't fit the stereotype helps your child challenge commonplace but biased attitudes. And be aware, if you overlook any kind of bigotry, you're sending your child the message that it's okay to feel superior to certain groups.

• Encourage Empathy: Encourage your child think about how someone might feel if their skin color, or clothes, or other attribute were constantly pointed out, even in a positive way. The ability to put one's self in someone else's shoes leads to respect.

• Talk About History, Bigotry and Racism: It may feel uncomfortable to admit to your child that there is hate, discrimination and injustice in the world. Telling your child (in age appropriate ways) about some of the unfair things that have happened to others (or yourself) gives you an opportunity to talk about how many people of all colors are working to make the world a more just and fair place for everyone. Being open about these issues without getting stuck on blaming can help your child understand they, too, can be a part of making the world a better place. Young children may understand these issues best in terms of fairness which they are learning about through interactions with their peers. These discussions will become more profound over time as your child has more experiences and begins to ask more questions - the main thing is to keep having them.

• Talk-the-Talk and Walk-the-Walk: Talking to your child about valuing and appreciating diversity openly is great, but there is much more power in actively demonstrating appreciation for diversity in your own life. Think consciously about the diversity of your friendships and how you treat others in front of your child. With all people, make an effort to be aware of what you do and say to them in front of your child -- it can make a huge difference in their future interactions with others.

Parenting Resources

Books and Articles for Adults:

A People’s History of the United States. Zinn, Howard, 2003. HarperCollins, New York, NY.

How to Be an Anti-Racist Parent: Real-Life Parents Share Real-Life Tips. New/Demographic Books. New York, NY.

Let's Talk About Race. Armstrong, Lisa, 2006. Parents Magazine, May 2006. http://www.parents.com/big-kids/socializing/social-growth/talking-to-kids-about-about-race/

Talking About Race, Age-by-Age. Kara Corridan, 2004. Parents Magazine, May 2004. http://www.parents.com/family-life/better-parenting/teaching-tolerance/talking-about-race-with-kids

Books for Children:

The Colors of Us. Karen Katz (April 2007). Henry Holt and Co. BYR Paperbacks, New York, NY..

Skin Again. Bell Hooks (October 2004). Hyperion Book CH, New York, NY.

All the Colors of the Earth. Sheila Hamanaka (September 1999). HarperCollins, New York, NY.

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