Supporting a Child’s Understanding of Diversity
I am a white woman, married to a white man, raising a white daughter.
Over a year ago, when my daughter was 11 months old, we were shopping at the dollar store. As we got into line, the black woman in front of us turned and smiled at us. We said hello. She commented on how precious my daughter was, and I thanked her. My daughter then started reaching and squawking for a mylar balloon that was in the checkout lane. Without skipping a beat, the woman ahead of us turned back around and said, “I want to buy one for her—which one does she want?” I tried to tell her no, that it was only a dollar, and that I could get it. She insisted, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “I want to buy one for her. I want her to know that women who look like me are friendly.” My eyes welled up, I thanked her for her gift, and left the store with a balloon and a happy toddler in tow.
It’s been many months since, but we held on to that balloon—more for the lesson it taught me than for the lesson it taught my daughter. It seems ridiculous that this woman would need to go around buying random children in the checkout line presents to win their respect for her race. It is ridiculous. But she was right—she could use that dollar store purchase to teach my daughter an important lesson, a lesson that I alone cannot directly teach her.
My husband and I do not pretend to be handling matters of race and diversity perfectly—or handling any aspects of parenting perfectly, for that matter—but it is a conversation that we have often, including the day we came home with the balloon. We know there will always be room for growth in this area, but it’s our goal to raise a woman who respects and loves all people. A woman who seeks to understand the challenges that others face and who advocates for all people. A woman who appreciates diversity and the unique perspectives that others have. She may be a toddler now, but this work has already started in our home.
As an early childhood educator, I look for how we can be part of the solution, starting at home. We strongly believe that the attitudes that we are working to instill, and the character traits attributed to them—kindness, compassion, humility, and open-mindedness, among others, will directly impact our daughter’s wellbeing. These attitudes will support her mental health as she goes into a broken world. They will support her social skills as she works to connect with people who are different than she is. They will support the wellbeing of the community she’s growing up in, and the social determinants of health for all people in our community.
While I am busy having these conversations in my home, it’s my prayer that we are all doing the same. While there is certainly work to do in the here and now, we must also recognize the opportunity that we have with our children. It is never too early to talk about race with our children. It’s something that we must do soon, and often, and openly. Doing so could change the narrative for the next generation. It’s also something that leaves many parents unsure—how do we talk to our children about racism?
Celebrate diversity with your children.
Do your children have the opportunity to regularly interact with people who look different from themselves? Do all of the “trusted adults” in your inner circle look the same? What about toys and books—do the faces that your child plays with reflect diversity?
For more support with this strategy:
Share history with your children.
Are the only history lessons your child is hearing coming from their teacher? Do you take time to share your own thoughts and feelings about what has happened in our country’s history? And currently? (Important note—it’s wonderful to allow children to see our emotions and experience the hurt of this topic, but it’s very important to communicate hope for the future, rather than fear or anger.)
For more support with this strategy:
Invite questions about race from your children.
Do your children feel comfortable talking about and asking about diversity in your home? Do you respond to questions with openness and honesty? Do you help connect your children to people who can offer answers that are different than yours? Do you help connect your children to resources when you aren’t able to answer their questions?
For more support on this strategy:
I am leaning into the lesson that this sweet woman shared with my daughter and me at the dollar store, and I am actively working in my own home to raise a generation of children who will change this conversation. Will you join me?