Talking to Children about Protests and Racism II

I’m hoping this message finds you well, but I wonder if you, like me, and like some of the parents and colleagues I’ve spoken to recently, are feeling…unsettled, unsure, upset. To continue with my U theme, there’s been a tremendous amount of unrest in recent weeks and it is seeping into our homes through our consciousness. It’s on the news, it’s on info-tainment, it’s all over social media, in our inboxes, in our conversations…and on our minds.

Last week, I said it was not the time to be silent. This week, I thought I would help you figure out what to say. But here’s the thing…with the under 2-3 set, there’s not a whole lot to say…what’s far more important at this age, is what you do.

We know that infants and toddlers are learning at an exceptional rate: they are absolutely sponges…and they are soaking up everything about life, including implicit biases. They notice and normalize your reactions and responses. As Dr. Maria Montessori said: “The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things she sees are not just remembered; they form part of her soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” And as Magda Gerber said, “What we teach is ourselves, as models of what is human, by our moods, our reactions, our facial expressions and actions. These are real things we need to be aware of, and of how they affect the child.”

And they are most definitely learning and absorbing messages about race: anywhere between 3 and 6 months, studies tell us babies notice race…and that noticing turns into bias by about age 4. So what you are doing in these first few years is critical. The book list I included last week is a good place to start; expanding your child’s libraries with books, as one educator on a webinar on the topic said, not just the ones about Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman! No, books describing children of all colors doing things all children do. You could also think about increasing the diversity of the dolls in your home. If your house includes media or screen time, be choosy about what programs you provide. And talk to your children about the messages you’re seeing in media you’re watching with them, ask questions. Here’s a simple and thoughtful video about how to do that. Be prepared to start the conversations early, so you aren’t playing catch up later.

But the most important thing you can do is to begin to educate yourselves about race and racism: the way you are in the world, the way you interact with people, the conversations you have when you think your children aren’t listening…these will shape them profoundly. I have a number of resources and lists…and I thought about including them, but to be honest, it might be my own bias and self-selection of friends and news (or Facebook’s algorithms!!), but I’ve been downright bombarded with so many lists and suggestions…books I need to get, articles to read, movies to watch, quizzes to take, memes to consider…I imagine you may already be swamped in that regard, too. In fact, I hesitated to add my voice to the cacophony I feel we all may be hearing…but one thing I realized is that so much of what we’re hearing is geared toward shifting adult mindsets or talking to preschool aged children (here’s a really spectacular and succinct summary for those parents), so I wanted to let you know that there are things that you can do as parents of young children. They may be small things, but they will add up to great things. And, in the words of Mother Theresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”