Rather than ignore race, experts urge parents to discuss them as soon as possible — ideally from the time children are three years old.
Jillian Roberts, a Victoria-based educational psychologist and mother-of-three, believes “it’s most important for Caucasian families to have these conversations” because “a Caucasian child … might not have any clue or perception of what discrimination means.”
“With the presidential election,” she said, “it’s even more important to speak about these values loudly. Starting these difficult conversation at such a young age makes it much easier to have.”
“Otherwise the bullies in the world will try to put up walls, and talk about what’s different between us.”
Donald Trump, who could be the next president of the United States, has been accused of a lot racist rhetoric over the course of his campaign. Trump, of course, denies allegations he’s a racist, despite being widely criticized over his comments about Mexicans (being “rapists“), Muslims (needing to be “profiled”), and his endorsement of an (unconstitutional) stop-and-frisk policy.
Oh, and who can forget the whole Birther debacle, which he’s since tried to distance himself from.
These current events are super easier for tech-savvy kids to access. So it’s up to parents to help shape their understanding of it all, Roberts says.
This fall she came out with her third children’s book, called “What Makes Us Unique? Our First Talk About Diversity.”
It highlights some of the differences kids may pick up on, like peers who have same-sex parents or different religions, while driving home the message that — underneath it all — we’re all more alike than not.
Here are three things parents can do to teach their kids to be accepting of people’s differences.
- Start early
“The way to protect your child and to instill the values you want is to instill the values you want them to have,” Roberts says.
“When little ones are growing up, they’re hard-wiring their understanding of the world. We can enable inside of children … that diversity is absolutely OK. In fact, we should celebrate diversity.”
In the book “Nurture Shock,” there’s a chapter called “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race.” Through various case studies, it illustrates that not discussing racial differences with kids (as well-intentioned as the reasons for that may be), actually does more harm than good.
Whether parents like it or not, science shows kids notice different colours from the time they’re six months old.
One cross-race study mentioned in Nurture Shock concluded that “by third grade, when parents usually recognize it’s safer to start talking a little about race, the development window has already closed.”
They naturally categorize similar things together and have a tendency to gravitate towards those who most closely resemble them, according to the work of psychologists cited in the book.
When parents don’t discuss racial differences “in unmistakable terms that children understand,” research has found their kids are more likely to discriminate against peers whose skin is different than theirs.
- Model the values you want them to have
If there are kids of different cultural backgrounds in your child’s classroom, Roberts urges parents to invite them all to parties.
Bring your kids to community cultural events whenever possible as well, she adds.
Your kids look up to you as they forge their beliefs, experts explain.
Don’t stand idly by if someone makes an inappropriate comment. And talk through concerns with your child if he or she makes a subtly racist comment.
WATCH: Teaching respect for diversity
- Talk to them about some of the problems in the world
Roberts uses car rides to school as an opportunity to talk about global issues with her four-year-old and two eldest kids, aged 13 and 16. She’ll put the radio on and the news stories will serve as conversation starters.
The recently reignited debate around the word “Indian” has been an issue particularly close to her heart since her husband is Metis.
Using that subject as an example, she says parents could tell their kids something like this:
“Over the course of how our nation is evolved, there have been different ways we’ve interacted with our Indigenous communities. And we’ve made huge mistakes.
“Language reflects where we’re at in our thinking and values.”
Just because a certain term was once deemed appropriate, it doesn’t mean it’s considered respectful now. Explaining historical context has been shown to reduce the bias kids sometimes naturally develop, the authors of Nurture Shock write.
Roberts encourages parents to watch the presidential debate (on Oct. 19) with their children and “discuss it with them.”
Even though racial tensions may not be as bad in Canada as they are south of the border, they do still exist.
“I believe all of Canadians have to fight against discrimination.”
Our nation is, after, all supposed to be a mosaic of multiculturalism.
With files from Carmen Chai, Global News