Tips to help you talk to your child about race

Tips to help you talk to your child about race

Something happened this afternoon that made me stop and question how well I am actually doing at teaching my four year old about life. I am always trying to educate and encourage good morals and values in my children, I want them to grow up into kind and respectful adults and I know it’s mine and their dads job to make that happen. I’ve fallen short though, completely unintentionally, I have failed to educate my child about race.

This afternoon Leo was watching Go Jetters after school (that Cbeebies programme with the theme tune that gets stuck in your head for days) and he made a comment about one of the characters. This is how our conversation unfolded –

Leo: Mummy, Grand Master Glitch is brown.

Me: Yup, he is. What do you think about that?

Leo: I think it makes him weird.

Me: (slightly horrified) Why?! Why would the colour of his skin make him weird?

Leo: Because he looks different and that’s weird.

Me: (despairing to myself) Different doesn’t mean weird. You have blonde hair and mine is brown, does that mean I’m weird?

Leo: No.

Me: Our eyes are blue but some people’s are green, does that make them weird?

Leo: No.

Me: So, the little boy in your class who has brown skin, what do you think of him?

Leo: He’s weird.

Me: Why?

Leo: Because he looks weird.

Ahh! It’s safe to say by the end of the conversation I was trying to calm down the voice in my head that was telling me I am raising a racist child. Obviously this isn’t the case, Leo is only four and just starting to really get a grasp of the world and all the people that live in it but I can’t help but wonder where this assumption that people who look different are weird has come from? I have certainly never said anything like that, neither has his Dad or any of our friends and family as far as I am aware. Has he heard something at school or is it just him starting to notice these sort of differences and just assuming different means something negative?

I have to admit, my friendship group isn’t very diverse. I can count on one hand the amount of friends I have who are not white and British, that’s not because I have any issue with those who aren’t, it’s just how it is. My family are all white and British, as are Oli’s and Leo has never really been around anyone from a different ethnic background before. We don’t really have conversations about race and that isn’t because I have been avoiding the topic, it is just up until recently I haven’t really had any reason to bring it up. I hope what I am about to say doesn’t get misconstrued or offend anyone but race is such a non issue for me, I mean that in the nicest way possible. I will treat everyone the same, I like or dislike you because of your personality, the colour of your skin does not play even the smallest role in how I form an opinion of someone. I have been foolish though, just because I see everyone on this earth as ‘human’ and not white/black/Asian etc doesn’t mean I don’t still need to teach my children to share this same outlook.

I’ve not been burying my head in the sand about this somewhat hard to explain life lesson, I have just been ignorant to how important it is to have these conversations even with very young children. I would be absolutely mortified if I picked Leo up from school tomorrow and his teacher told me he had called one of his classmates weird, purely because their skin is a different colour to his. I told Leo he is never to be nasty to someone just because they look different and he says he understands but it just worries me that those thoughts that different skin = weird were even there in the first place.

Trying to navigate the often highly emotive and easily misconstrued conversations around race can be really difficult, even when you are trying to talk about it with other adults. so trying to teach a four year old about it isn’t always as easy as using an analogy about different hair and eye colours. I turned to the blogging world for advice on how to talk to your children about race and here is a list of their really useful tips.

How to talk to your child about race.

Hold you arm up next to your child’s and point out that no skin tones are the same colour, some are darker some are fairer but everyone is beautiful and worthy of respect.  – A Slummy Mummy 

Print off images of different faces and make up stories with 2 or 3 at a time where the people are saving / helping / educating him. Magical etc. So he learns to see and value the person and not just the face. – Our altered life

Read lots of books with a range of people ages/abilities/ethnicities, sexual orientation etc and in so doing show your child the huge beautiful diversity of the people who populate our world. – Simple parenting

I would encourage kids programmes or videos where there is a mix of different races in one family or group of friends – My bump2baby

I have had a chat with my eldest about this in the past. I have explained that people come in all different shapes, sizes and colours, but underneath it we are all human, & it’s personality that counts. I am trying to reinforce this in relation to awareness of any physical difference so that my kids understand that it’s not about what you look like, but who you are and how you behave. The Mum Conundrum 

We’ve been reading the Oliver Jeffers book ‘Here We Are’ its a beautiful book with a beautifully simple message about how everyone looks different and sounds different but we are all people living on one tiny planet so we need look after each other and the planet. – Sinead Latham

My son shouted out ‘look at that black man’ on the train when he was 3. I had a big chat with him about how he wouldn’t feel comfortable with being made to feel different by him pointing out something that doesn’t need to be pointed out. Skin colour is just that and it makes people no different to us so that we have to point them out as different. He hasn’t done it since and when he talks about his coloured friends now he honestly sees them as no different to him. I stress that we must treat everyone as an equal no matter what their colour and that their race and colour doesn’t make them different as we are all human beings. – Our bucket list lives

Its really tricky to get the terminology right as what is and isn’t acceptable changes all the time. I have used the term mixed race to explain how HE (my three year old) can describe someone if he is talking about them to me and I make a big point of making sure we talk about similarities– lots of things we have the same as well as things that are different. – Arthur Wears

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There are so many really good tips here, I am definitely going to start having more conversations about race with Leo and I would love for him to get to the point where he sees each and everyone of us as human and deserving of the same love, respect and treatment as people who have white skin like him. Go Jetters may be a seriously annoying TV show but it has helped me see that I need to start talking about the big issues with my little one and, for that reason, I will always be thankful to Grand Master Glitch.

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Do you have conversations with your children about race? Got any advice you would like to share for parents like me whose children have started to notice that we don’t all look the same? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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12 Comments

  1. June 19, 2018 / 1:30 pm

    Some great tips and pointers for parents here for when they want to introduce the concept of race to their children. I think it’s an important thing to talk about, especially when promoting equality. It’s good for children to notice differences as they get older, a bit like they do with gender.

  2. June 19, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    These are great tips for a tricky subject. You definitely aren’t raising a racist child but he is obviously at an age where he is noticing visual differences. Just like you we are a whiter than white family and so are most of our friends, but not all. We are fortunate to live in a multicultural community so Ellie is getting very used to seeing various skin colours and religious dress. I have no doubt I will be dealing with certain questions in the future so I will be referencing back. You dealt with this the right way but not passing by the subject. I’m sure this will soon be a distant memory.

  3. June 19, 2018 / 2:37 pm

    This is such a tricky one and I think a lot of face the same kind of thing. I’ve been talking to Dil a lot about how we don’t comment on other people’s bodies after a few awkward moments but kids are inquisitive and I think it’s normal. Sounds like you’re doing a brilliant job of helping him to understand everyone’s differences.

  4. June 20, 2018 / 8:00 am

    Where we live there aren’t very many people of other ethnicities, we’re all just bog standard white Brits, and I remember being really nervous the first time one of my children saw someone from another race. They took it in their stride, no problems at all. I think kids’ tv and books these days is pretty good at introducing the wonderful range of people around the globe. Top tips here from you too!
    Elizabeth recently posted…Could a switch in milk solve children’s tummy troubles? #adMy Profile

  5. June 20, 2018 / 10:37 pm

    Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it either until I read your blog post. My son is in school here in Portugal and 90% of his classmates have much darker skin than him, naturally so. One little girl is very dark skinned and he’s never commented. But I might get the Oliver Jeffers book as he’s a favourite author of ours so it might help broach the subject.

  6. June 21, 2018 / 5:03 pm

    This is something my daughter is all to familiar with, because she is a Tongan-Kiwi-English mix (as my wife and I call a fruit cocktail mix). She is stunning in every way and some kids have asked why is darker than other kids from time to time. My wife’s family do live in New Zealand and we have long thought about moving there. This is one issue which is close to our hearts and something ugly will arise at High-school, I can feel it.

    John M

  7. June 21, 2018 / 6:22 pm

    Ahhh, race is such a minefield! I remember getting a bit nervous when my then 2-year-old daughter pointed at a man on TV and said, “Daddy!” – the man was Hispanic, but otherwise looked nothing like my husband. “Does she think all Hispanic people look alike?” I wondered. I’m glad that her nursery is really diverse, so she sees kids of all different ethnicities every day – Glasgow is a fairly diverse city too. I’m just hoping that will help make things easier as she gets older and starts to become more aware of people’s differences. #coolmumclub

  8. June 22, 2018 / 12:19 am

    This is indeed a conversation that I had with my youngest. When he was three he started noticing skin color. At about the same time he started noticing that girls and boys look differently. This is normal development for children but I remember when he saw a black man at the grocery store he asked me why he was a different color. Now my response at the time was “because God likes people and animals to look different so he can tell them apart.” But it also led to a more in-depth conversation. I included animals in the conversation because he loves animals of all kinds (accept spiders and bugs lol) and I used how each animal species is different from the next, yet they’re all animals. Humans are the same. We have different races and different backgrounds yet we are all human. I asked him what he thought the world would be like if everyone looked the same. What if the Lion looked like the dog? He didn’t like that. He said the Lion wouldn’t be who he is. That’s exactly how I connected race in the equation.
    Now he’s 11 years old and has friends from all different races and backgrounds. So I think the way you handled it was excellent and that you did handle it is amazing because there people out there – white people in particular – who would have brushed it under the rug and wouldn’t have answered the question at all. Great post! And I hope other find inspiration in this post.

  9. June 24, 2018 / 3:34 pm

    This is such a hard thing to discuss with children because you don’t know what they’ve already heard. Like you, our friends and family, and almost everyone N comes across are white, because we live in a very rural area. Now he’s at school there are 2 asian families with children (in fact his buddy in year 6 when he was in reception was one of the asian girls), and a couple of children with african american background. To him they’re just children at school, although I am always worried because my OH isn’t the most politically correct and has some strong views. The worst he’s said is to assume that children with coloured skin are from somewhere else, when all in the school are British born. So I’ve had to explain immigration through the ages, and how you can’t assume people aren’t british because most children probably were born here.

    There’s also the religious thing where none of the asian children go to church, do the nativity or anything christian based. Tbh my feeling is that if you’re at a CofE school where everyone is learning about all religions, then really you should be taking part in the whole of school life, it doesn’t mean you’re that religion – I’m sure there are lots of aetheists whose children still take part in church services. He notices that and that does mark they out as different but due to religion not race, and he understands why they choose to do that.

    Having children can be so surprising at how early you need to start teaching children about equality and discrimination. #coolmumclub

  10. July 12, 2018 / 7:29 am

    Such a great thing to talk about. I’ve always believed that if we truly want our world to progress with social issues like race and genders, it has to start with our kids. If them, the next generation, would grow up with a well-shaped mind, then I think the world would have less social issues to worry about.

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