Mom Tip Monday: Talking About Differences

by Heligirl on February 14, 2011

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles

Children can begin to notice difference in gender and skin color as early as six months of age. By age 3, they can place a photo of themselves in their own racial/ethnic group and begin to ask questions about differences. By the time they enter kindergarten, they have a core sense of their racial identity and may have begun to absorb societal messages about race.

When children ask questions about differences, their intent is usually to gather information, not to be unkind or to embarrass adults (although that is often a consequence of their questions). Likewise, imitation (e.g., limping) is one of the ways that children learn and may not be meant as teasing.

Taking an accepting attitude and doing our best to answer kids’ questions, even if they make us uncomfortable, will help engender understanding and tolerance, as well as acceptance of the differences in themselves.

Below are some pieces of advice I received in my co-op preschool parent training on how to encourage learning about differences and answer sometimes hard questions?

  • Don’t ignore, change the subject, or answer indirectly. This gives the child the impression that the subject is taboo or that there is something wrong with the person.
  • Clarify the question. It may not be what you think the child wants to know. Ask, “Why did you ask that?” or “Why do you want to know?”
  • Respond directly, matter-of-factly, simply. Keep answers brief and use language that your child can understand.
  • Try to figure out the feelings behind the question. Is the child merely curious, or is there some kind of discomfort involved?
  • If you can’t respond immediately, tell your child that you will answer later, then be sure to do it. When you do respond, explain to your child why you waited.
  • If you are uncomfortable with your child’s pointing, staring, or asking outright, you can give you child a secret “code” to use when she or he is curious about a person. This code will mean that you’ll discuss it later. Be sure you do.
  • If you don’t know how to answer your child’s question, say “I don’t know, I need to think about that,” or “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Remember to follow up.
  • If you “blow it,” that’s okay. Some response is better than no response. You can always go back and say, “You know what I told you earlier about _______? I’ve been thinking about it, and I have a better answer for you now.

Have you faced a difficult question about race from your little one? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences.

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