The Incredible Years program

My family is currently enrolled in a session of The Incredible Years, which is an evidence-based program for parents and for children, supported by over 30 years of research. The goal is to prevent and treat young children’s behavior problems and promote their social, emotional, and academic competence.

At the program we’re in, parents attend a 13 week session to learn skills to support their kids. Children attend 18 weeks of “Dinosaur School” which uses dinosaur-themed materials and puppets to engage children and strengthen social and emotional skills. Both programs are truly excellent!

I will be doing a series of blog posts here where I reflect on things we are learning in class and in the book. Writing about ideas gives me a much stronger grasp of them, and a deeper understanding of how they can apply to my parenting life and to the information I give students in my parent education classes.

Nothing I write here is meant to be a substitute for participating in these programs! The hands-on, in-person aspect is key to the learning. But hopefully you’ll find some interesting tidbits in these posts.

Seattle’s ReCreative Store

In the Greenwood neighborhood of North Seattle, you’ll find a unique store called ReCreative – a Creative Reuse Store and Community Arts Center. Community members and local businesses donate clean and usable art, craft, school, and office supplies that are re-sold to the public. This diverts materials headed for landfills, and re-distributes them to people who can use them for education, art, and inspiration. They are a great resource for preschool teachers, camp counselors, aftercare programs, parents, and anyone who likes to do art or make stuff.

They offer adult art classes (painting, knitting, art journalling), kids’ art classes (paint playground for ages 1 – 5, kids studio for age 5 – 7, early release Wednesdays for grade 2 – 5, crochet critters for ages 8 – 12, and family woodworking), and camps during summer and school breaks. They also offer a creative playspace which is open to kids and parents every afternoon, and parents’ night out for 4 – 12 year olds, and children’s parties.  Learn more on their website.

Their inventory is ever-changing, but here’s what we found on 8/23/17 – click on any picture for a larger image.

Yarn, Fabric and Sewing Notions

       

Paper of all sorts

   

Miscellaneous re-useables: Corks, bottle caps, lids, straws, wood bits

   

Photo frames and albums, stencils and stickers, photos, beads and jewelry supplies

   

Paint, markers, crayons, pens and pencils

  

Rubber stamps, office supplies, leather bits
  

Shells, bottles and jars (although everything else is cheap, I think 50 cents for jars is a bit high), tile samples and laminate samples

  

There’s more… I got pictures of about 70% of what I saw.

As you can see at the top of the post, I bought a little notebook, some index cards, and LOTS of markers… my total (minus the 25 cent hair clip my son wanted) was $1.35!

To be fair – I tested the markers, and although there were no dead markers, five of them are on the verge of drying up. (That’s fine – we’ll use those for DIY liquid watercolor paints… learn how here.) But over 40 markers that work great for under a $1.00 is still a great deal.

If you’re local, check out Seattle ReCreative and let us know what you think in the comments. If you’re not local, do you have anything like this in your community? Let my other readers know!

Parenting as Justice Work

A few days ago, my six-year-old had been playing a video game, and told me the characters said they wanted to make the world a better place. Then my son said “It seems like that’s what everyone is trying to do – everyone wants to make the world a better place.”

He said this a few days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. And I thought to myself “But the challenge is that some people’s view of what would be ‘better’ is very different from other people’s views.”

As we’ve seen this week, some people’s view of a better America is one where everyone is of European descent and where all others have “gone back to where they came from” or have “learned their place.” It’s a view based on hate / prejudice, or driven by fear, or a desire to protect those who are “like me” from those who are different.

My view is of a more just and equitable society, filled with diverse traditions and perspectives, where all members of the society have equal rights and equal protections. My view acknowledges that we are a long ways from that right now, as the marginalized members of our society who may most need the protections are instead the least likely to be well served by our institutions and policies.

What do I, as an individual, do to help work toward my view of a better world? How do I, as a parent, talk to my child about my vision of a better world? What do I, as a parent educator, say to the parents in my classes to encourage them to articulate their own view of a better world and to talk to their children about that? How do I, as a member of a faith community and other communities, work together with others to speak aloud our vision for a better world, knowing that the more voices are united, the more powerful the message is?

Talk about (and embrace) differences

I’ve written three posts in the past, which articulate many thoughts on these topics: Talking to Toddlers About Race; Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity;  Look Mom! That lady only has one leg! All of these address the fact that children notice differences! (As early as six months, children can classify faces by race and by gender. Source.) They also notice how we respond to them. So, when your preschooler shouts out “Look! That kid has a weird red spot on their cheek!” or “Is that a man or a woman?” or “Why is she wearing that weird robe that covers her all up?” or whatever… think about how to respond. If you “shushhhh” your child, you teach them that the thing they have observed is a shameful thing we don’t talk about in public. If you try to ignore the difference or say “but we’re all the same!” you confuse your child and miss a teaching opportunity.

Here’s another perspective:

“[Being “colorblind”] is not realistic. I’m an African-American woman. … When I walk into a room and I am the only black woman, it’s obvious. There’s no benefit in pretending. …  however, [we don’t] need to act awkward around each other. If we’ve embraced the fact that God has created us as equals, there’s no need or reason for that awkwardness. If someone who is culturally or ethnically different from you comes around, it is unrealistic, unhelpful and possibly unloving to pretend that you don’t notice. So, when your child says, “Mommy why is that woman wearing a dot on her forehead?” Instead of asking them to be quiet out of embarrassment, the colorsmart approach is to take that question as an opportunity to positively explain her different, unique culture. (source)

Here’s another thought:

“I’m going to teach my daughter the truth about race — that our brains are wired to notice looks first. … It’s okay to notice skin color. What’s not okay is to pretend color doesn’t exist. It’s the way you acknowledge color, and how you react, that makes you embrace race, hide from it, or run from it. … it’s [our] job to move beyond primal instinct in order to truly accept everyone — no matter what color or culture they may be. … Step out from behind the curtain of color-blindness, and embrace how not everyone is the same.”   (source)

Or, as one of my friends says to her five-year-old: “everyone’s different, and that’s awesome!”

And it’s not enough to say this with your words… your actions also matter. Children pick up and interpret subtle messages from their environment. So, if all the people you hang out with look and talk a lot like you, your child may interpret that they’re only supposed to hang around people who look and talk like them. (Source)

If we don’t talk about race , religion, abilities and other differences, then our child will come up with their own guesses and interpretations. It is better to talk about it openly so they know our views.

Talk about Inequities

As we talk about differences, and embrace differences, we may also naturally talk about equality – how in the United States, we are supposed to all have equal rights, equal protection, and equal responsibilities. I absolutely want to talk to my child about how things should be. But, I can’t leave it at that… I also have to talk about the fact that things in our country are not truly equal.

“If you tell your kid his entire life that all people, regardless of the color of their skin, are exactly the same, then when your white kid is a white grown up and he sees a disproportionate percentage of the people living in poverty have a different skin color than he does, he’s going to assume it’s because there’s something wrong with them. He will blame the people, not the flawed system. If we’re all the same, those people with brown skin can just work hard and be successful, right? …

By teaching your kids not to see color, you’re teaching them that the black men gunned down by white cops must have been criminals, they must’ve been bad guys, they must’ve deserved it.

By teaching your kids not to see color, you are teaching them that systemic racism does not exist… you are teaching them to be complicit in a culture of racism and fear.

Colorblind is not the answer. Skin color exists. Race exists. Racism exists. To ignore it and pretend it doesn’t is not just the wrong way, but is exacerbating the problem. Ignoring race, being colorblind, teaches kids that there’s nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss. White parents need to ENCOURAGE their kids to talk about race, ask questions, learn. Feed the discussion, not the ignorance.

Teach your kids to celebrate differences. Teach your kids that skin color IS important. Teach your kids that race exists, but bigotry shouldn’t. Teach them that our differences make us amazing. Don’t ignore, embrace.”  (Source)

Talk about Privilege

If I acknowledge that it is harder to be black, or Jewish, or gay in our society, I must also acknowledge that it is easier to be white, Christian, or straight. There is inherent privilege in these identities. “Privilege is the “up-side” of oppression and discrimination. It is about unearned advantage, which can also be described as exemption from discrimination.” Source

Privilege can be mis-interpreted.

“… privilege does not mean that their lives will be easy or that everything is “handed” to them. People tend to think of privilege in terms of super rich people who don’t have to work for anything. It’s hard to see that we are privileged when we are struggling to make ends meet. The fact is that privilege isn’t so much about what is handed to you, it’s about what isn’t even accessible to others. White privilege doesn’t mean that someone gives you a job for no reason, but it might mean that your resume is instantly taken more seriously because your name is John and not Jamal.” Source

I believe that I am a good person, and that I am smart, and that I work hard. So it is easy to believe that I have earned all the things I have in life. But I must also acknowledge that many things were easier for me to earn when I am white, 4th or 5th generation American, of Christian heritage, middle class, straight, cisgender, well-educated, and had a calm childhood with few things that could be considered adverse childhood experiences. (Read more about me and my identity here.)

What are some of the ways I’ve experienced privilege? In a classic essay on Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh lists some examples of the privileges I’ve experienced:

  • I can turn on the TV or open the paper, and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can go shopping… mostly assured I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these things to the bad morals, the poverty of the illiteracy of my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to speak to “the person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I need medical or legal help, my race will not work against me.

My kids will also experience these benefits.

“A white kid growing up in a middle-class family an hour outside Seattle like my kids can work hard and become anything they want to be. A black kid growing up in a poor family in Baltimore could work just as hard as my white kids and not end up in the same place. Do some of those kids “beat the odds” and become super successful? Absolutely. But the fact that there are “odds” to beat is exactly the point of white privilege.” Source

So, what can I do? I’m still going to encourage my kids to be good people and to work hard. When they succeed at something, I’ll still celebrate and tell them they earned it. But when they earn access to some option just because of their privileged status, I will also point that out to them. I’ll ask them to question whether everyone truly had equal access. I’ll ask them to notice when other people do not have the same access as they do, and to question why that is the case.

Use Your Privilege

“Privilege means that you owe a debt. You were born with [privilege]. You didn’t ask for it. And you didn’t pay for it either. No one is blaming you for having it. You are lovely, human, and amazing. Being a citizen of a society requires work from everyone within that society. It is up to you whether you choose to acknowledge the work that is yours to do. It is up to you whether you choose to pay this debt and how you choose to do so.”  Source

That might mean speaking up for a person who is being poorly treated at a business due to their marginalized status, or it might mean speaking at a town hall where your voice may be heard better than the voices of those who are often silenced, it might be standing up for someone who is being bullied, or walking alongside marginalized people as they rally for their rights.  There are lots of things we can do as individual adults, and as our kids see us taking action, they learn from our example what our values are.

We can also encourage our children to use their privileges. A mother of a black son (who will transition from “an adorable black boy to a strong black man”) writes:

“We talk to our son about safety issues. We talk to him about being respectful of police (and anyone in authority), about keeping his hands where they are visible, about not wearing his hood up over his face or sneaking through the neighbor’s backyard during hide-and-seek or when taking a shortcut home from school. … Some people are going to see him as a “thug” before they ever know his name, his story, his gifts and talents.” Source

I’ve got an adorable white boy, who’s likely to transition to a scrawny geeky white man. I don’t have to have these same conversations with him. But I can talk to him about racism (and other -isms) and help him understand how to use his privilege to protect others. As the mother of the black son writes:

“So white parents, please talk to your kids about racism. If they see my son being bullied or called racist names, they need to stand with him. They need to understand how threatening that is and not just something to be laughed off. If your child is with my child playing soccer at the park and the police drive by, tell your child to stay—just stay right there with my son. Be a witness. In that situation, be extra polite, extra respectful. Don’t run and don’t leave my son by himself. If they are with my son, this is not the time to try out any new risky behaviors. Whatever trouble they get into, he will likely not be judged by the same standard you are. Be understanding that he can’t make the same mistakes you can.

Be conscious of what media messages your kids are getting about race. Engage in tough conversations about what you’re hearing in the news. Don’t shy away from this just because you can. He can’t. We can’t. I have hope that when white parents start talking about these issues with our white kids, that’s when change starts.” Source

When do we start?

We start talking about differences as early as our kids start noticing them. That’s as young as 6 months for race and gender! They start to crystallize beliefs about group identities as by the time they reach preschool. (Source) We can help to shape their initial attitudes on all these things, but not if we don’t start talking about it till they’re 6 or 7 years old. That’s too late to start.

So, from very early on, do step 1: talk about (and embrace) differences.

The other steps are more sophisticated, and require a more advanced cognitive level to understand. As rough estimates: when your kids start talking about what’s fair and what’s unfair is a good time to start talking about equality and step 2 – talking about inequities. This would typically be around age 4 – 6. You can talk about recognizing and using privilege as they get into later elementary school, or before then if you note that they are starting to make assumptions about “____ got that because he deserved it and ____ didn’t get it because she’s not good enough” or any other judgments that imply a developing bias.

Resources for learning more:

To learn more about these topics, click on any of the links above to find lots of great articles.

Also check out resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center. For adults, Ten Ways to Fight Hate. For kids (and educators), the resources on Teaching Tolerance.

Making Music: How it Benefits Early Learning

When parents attend our parent-child classes with their children, they may think of the songs we sing at circle time as one of the fun and enjoyable parts of class, but they may not realize just how much important learning is going on. When children actively participate in making music (whether that’s a baby bouncing to rhythm, a toddler shaking their bells, a preschooler singing along, or an elementary age child playing an instrument), here’s how they benefit:

Music Skills: Of course, they begin learning musical skills, such as rhythm, varying tempo and pitch, and how to echo back what they hear. They learn to use their singing voice and play instruments.

Auditory Processing: They learn how to listen. Children who have music lessons respond to sounds more quickly, distinguish between sounds, and pay attention to sounds, all of which aids in learning.

Language: When listening to and singing songs, there’s lots of language learning. They learn to hear the rhythm of language, the break between syllables and words, hear and predict rhymes, work on pronunciation, and get exposed to a wide ranging vocabulary – from the water spout the spider climbs up to the pockets full of posey and the fleece on Mary’s lamb. Singing the alphabet song and singing about 5 little ducks who went out one day teach letter and number sequences.

Vestibular Development: With babies and toddlers, when we hold them in our arms while we dance, or hold them in our laps for lap songs, like the Grand Old Duke of York, all that bouncing up and down, swaying side to side, and even flipping upside down helps to develop their vestibular system – the system that helps them to balance and know their position.

Large Motor: When kids dance, clap, swing their arms, roll arms to Wheels on the Bus, shake the shaker or bang the drum, they’re learning large motor movements – new ways of using their bodies.

Small motor: As children learn to use more sophisticated instruments, starting with triangles and rhythm sticks, moving up to keyboards, and then stringed instruments or wind instruments, they develop precise fine motor skills. They can then apply these in lots of other areas of life.

Steady Beat: By the age of 3 or 4, children should know how to keep a beat, but most do not. Steady beat helps with a huge array of physical tasks which are easier and/or more effective with rhythm: walking, dancing, dribbling a ball, rowing a boat, typing on a keyboard, cutting vegetables, jumping rope, cutting with scissors and much more. Also, research shows kids with the ability to keep a steady beat pay attention for longer periods and do better in school.

Keeping Time / Math: Music enhances brain development in areas tied to counting, organization, time, and division of larger notes into smaller notes (i.e. fractions).

Impulse Control: When we take our shakers and we “shake and we shake and we shake and we stop”, kids are learning impulse control and following directions. How do we stop doing something when told to stop, and how do we wait till we’re told it’s time to start again? These are key skills for success at school and life.

Predicting what comes next / pattern recognition: When you sing the same song to your child over and over, they learn to expect what is coming next… “After mom says ‘with a one step, and a two step’ she’s gong to tickle me!” This helps them learn to understand cause / effect, and routines.

Emotional Intelligence: In Brain Rules for Babies, John Medina describes how when a child learns to recognize different musical tones, they also learn to recognize different emotional tones, and can tell more about how others feel. Young babies who were exposed to music classes had improved communication: more likely to point to objects, wave goodbye, smile, and show less distress.

Attachment: Music can foster emotional attachment. Even when babies are still in the womb, music can be a way to make a connection – they will respond to your voice. After birth, your family’s songs start becoming familiar and recognizable, and a part of their safe and secure environment.

Tradition: Music is a unique and powerful way for children to connect to their roots. An African-American spiritual, a Yiddish or Irish lullaby, a Mexican folk song… all introduce a child to the family’s heritage in a way that goes beyond words or pictures.

Routines / Transitions: Familiar songs create a sense of comfort for a child. No matter where you are, you always have access to this same familiar tune. Many parents and teachers learn the value of songs for reinforcing routines (“this is the song we always sing at bedtime”) and signaling that it’s time to transition from one activity to the next (the cleanup song!).

Memory: Research has shown that children who’ve taken music lessons have a better ability to repeat back and to remember what they hear or read. Teaching information in a song form also makes it easier for kids to remember – make up a little song to help them memorize your phone number!

Practice group skills: Sitting at circle time, listening to the teacher, participating when asked, figuring out when they’re supposed to just sit quietly (and learning how to just sit quietly!), starting an activity when all the other children do and stopping when they do are all important steps in school readiness.

IQ and academic success: Research has shown that children who participate in music lessons have higher IQ’s, do better in school, and score better on standardized tests. The more years of music lessons they take, the better they do.

Fun: One of the biggest reasons we have music in our classes is because it is fun! Making music with others gives us all joy. The smiles and giggles in music time delight parents, children, and teachers.

Resources I’ve compiled

Other Resources

  • King County library – videos of librarians singing 100’s of classic children’s rhymes. http://kcls.org/content
  • Jbrary – a YouTube channel featuring children’s librarians singing songs, lap songs, and finger rhymes from library story times: www.youtube.com/user/Jbrary/videos.
  • Nancy Stewart – lyrics and .mp3 audio recordings of lots of traditional songs, including “songs every child should know” http://singwithourkids.com/song-library.htm. Recommended books which include songs, or have rhythmic text that can be sung, to reinforce early literacy skills: http://singwithourkids.com/bookshelf.htm.
  • Let’s Play Music – Over 150 songs, each with lyrics, sheet music, a video of the tune played on a xylophone and motions to go along with the song. www.letsplaykidsmusic.com
  • YouTube has a huge collection of animated videos featuring traditional and new children’s songs, in a wide range of languages. Quality ranges tremendously, and many are inappropriate for children; however, there are some great ones if you search and preview and make your own playlists.

If you would like a printable version of this information to hand out, here’s the Music Benefits PDF.

Summer Movies 2017

Whether you’re looking for outdoor movies to enjoy those warm summer evenings, or indoor movies for those hot summer mornings when you really just need some A/C, or a drive-in movie, here are some options in the Seattle area for summer 2017.

Kids’ Summer Movie Clubs

As you may remember from your own childhood, these are probably the cheapest, easiest way to entertain your kids for two hours on a summer morning…

Outdoor Movies

Note: all outdoor movies start around “dusk”. This being the Pacific Northwest, that usually means around 9 – 9:30 pm in July and 8:30 – 9 in August, so outdoor movies aren’t compatible with early bedtimes. Get some handy tips / etiquette advice for outdoor movies here and here.

If you want one page that has all the movie listings all in one place, go to https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/6/9/seattle-summer-outdoor-movie-guide-2017

Tuesdays

Downtown Movies in the Park at Bellevue’s Downtown Park (by the mall). Free entertainment, popcorn and movies – each week has a non-profit partner, and you’re encouraged to donate to support these valuable programs. All movies are kid friendly. https://parks.bellevuewa.gov/special-events/outdoor-movies

Wednesdays:

Movies at Marymoor in Redmond. Wednesdays, 7/5 – 8/23. Some weeks are kid movies, some are teen/adult movies – check schedule. $5 per person, $5 to park. Live entertainment, trivia, food trucks, vendors. www.epiceap.com/movies-at-marymoor/

Thursdays:

Fridays:

Saturdays:

More options: Fridays at Auburn’s Summer Sounds; Fridays at Shilshole Bay Marina; Saturday teen movies at Three Dollar Bill, Cal Anderson Park, Capital Hill.

Drive-Ins

Movies start at dusk… see note above. There aren’t many classic drive-ins left… and when you search for them online, you’re likely to find out of date listings. For example, http://www.driveintheater.com/drivlist.htm lists Samish in Bellingham, which was demolished in 2004, and http://www.driveinmovie.com/WA.htm lists Valley in Auburn which has been closed for several years and Puget Park in Everett, which closed in 2010. Here’s what’s still open within a two hour drive from Seattle:

The only other one in the state is Auto-vue Drive-in – Colville, WA. 6 hours from Seattle. www.facebook.com/Auto-Vue-Drive-In-Theatre-120740527937813/

Summer Movie Guide and Parental Guides to Media

If you’re looking for a list of first-run movies for the summer, and advice on whether they’re kid appropriate, check out the Summer Movie Guide from Common Sense Media. Common Sense also provides reviews of movies, books, TV shows, games, apps and websites. In their movie reviews, they look at educational value, positive role models, positive messages, violence and scariness level, sexy stuff, language, consumerism and substances, providing information so parents can make their own informed decisions about what’s right for their child.

Kids in Mind also offers film reviews which rate, on a scale of 1 – 10, the level of sex/nudity, violence/gore, profanity and substance use in a movie. They also give detailed descriptions of each incident they counted, for parents to consider (and sometimes, at least for me, to laugh at…). For example, for the Captain Underpants movie, under violence and gore, these situations are described: “Children run around in a frenzy after a man pours sugar on their heads. Toilet paper rolls are launched and one roll hits a man… Flashbacks to pranks pulled on teachers include water fountains spraying in their faces, paint splattered on them, among others. A man falls into a dunk tank and is sprayed with water guns at a carnival. Thunder claps sound and lightning flashes when children go into school on a Saturday.”

Read more: http://www.kidsinmind.com/c/captainunderpantsthefirstepicmovie.htm#ixzz4jpOR1j1t
TERMS OF USE: Our reviews are copyrighted. Copy, save, print, email and share content, but publishing our reviews on other websites is both illegal and immoral.
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

Other Activities: If you’re looking for other fun ideas for the summer, check out my series on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers and Young Kids”, or read about hands-on STEM enrichment activities for kids age 3 – 7 at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.

If you have kids age birth to 7, check out info about fabulous classes for them that include parent education for you, available at all local community colleges during the school year – register now before they fill up!!

Teaching about Differences and Appreciation of Diversity

 

Young children love to sort things by color, or by shape, or by type (e.g. car or train?). They make sense of their world by seeing how things fit into categories. And in most cases, we encourage them to think about classifications – especially when it helps them to remember to put the Legos in the Lego bin, the books on the bookshelf, and the dirty socks in the laundry basket!

But, when they try to sort out categories of people: race, gender, ability, age, and more, we tend to get all flustered. We worry about saying the wrong thing, causing offense, creating prejudice, etc.

For example, consider our approach to racial differences. Children are very aware of different skin tones, even as young as 6 months. But when kids ask their parents about it, how do they respond? Most non-white parents talk openly and frequently about race. But research finds that 75% of white parents almost never talk about race – they often just change the subject. When well-meaning white parents do talk about race, they often try the “color-blind” approach and say “we’re all the same.” Which mystifies a young child who can clearly see we are NOT all the same.  If parents avoid a subject, or become awkward around it, kids may get the message that the topic is “taboo.”

How might our kids’ perception be changed if we instead acknowledge and celebrate differences?

Talk about Differences. When reading books, watching movies, or people watching, talk about differences easily and openly. Note different skin colors, ages, gender expressions, weight, ability, clothing / hairstyles, languages spoken, family compositions, and more. Use descriptive words / labels they can use, like Asian, gay, disabled, multi-racial – you can say this just as easily as you can say “look it’s a girl and a boy in that picture”. (As they get older, we’ll help them learn that no one can be defined by any one label. But, as they start to sort things out, talking about differences builds vocabulary and context for understanding the broader world.)

Be careful not to add in biased judgments or stereotypes when talking about differences: “She’s only got a mama, no daddy. That must be hard for her.” “He’s Asian, I bet he does well in school.” “She likes sports? She must be a tomboy.”

Talk about Commonalities. We shouldn’t ignore the differences and only talk about commonalities. But, once you’ve acknowledged a difference your child has noticed, you can also talk about universal needs and common interests. “You’re right, her skin is a different color than yours. Her ancestors came from a different part of the world than ours did. I saw you guys played soccer together for a long time – it seems like she likes it as much as you do.” “Yes, you have just me as your parent, and most of your classmates have two parents – sometimes a mom and a dad, sometimes two moms or two dads. But all of you get lots of love and snuggles, right?” “They wear those special clothes as part of their religion. We don’t wear special clothes, but we do celebrate special holidays because of our religious beliefs.”

Answer Questions about Differences. I have a visible handicap, and it’s pretty common for me to overhear a child saying “mama, how come that lady only has one leg?” Some parents ignore the question, change the subject, or “shush” the child. That tells the child this is something that is “not OK” to talk about. It implies that disability is something shameful or embarrassing to discuss, either for them or for me. Instead, when your child asks questions about differences, try these approaches:

  • Acknowledge the difference – “you’re right, and that’s different than what you’re used to.”
  • After acknowledging it, you could say “we’ll talk about it later” or you could address it now.
  • Give a simple answer to the question, it you know it: “Those are called crutches. They help her to walk.” Or, if you don’t know, you might say “I don’t know why she has one leg… some people are born without one and sometimes they lose a leg in an accident.”
  • Try to figure out how your child is feeling. If they’re simply curious and wanting to learn something, then answer the question they asked. If you sense there’s any fear or discomfort for them, make some guesses about what that is and address it.

Actively expose your child to other perspectives: Eat at ethnic restaurants, attend cultural festivals, visit museums which focus on other cultures, read books and see movies from many countries, learn bits of other languages. Seek out multi-generational communities – make friends with people of all ages. Connect with queer families. Attend public events hosted by faith communities. Choose to live in a diverse neighborhood and/or attend a diverse school.

Choose children’s books which teach about diversity. Look here for info on how to evaluate books (and other media): http://www.teachingforchange.org/selecting-anti-bias-books and here for recommended books www.childpeacebooks.org/cpb/Protect/antiBias.php

Talking about Inequity. In the early years, we can focus on building an appreciation for, and understanding of, a wide variety of differences.

As they get older (around early elementary school), then we add in that even though people may be different, we all have the same rights and deserve the same fair treatment.

As they get even older (by age 8 to 10), we can refine that into “we should all have the same rights and opportunities, but we don’t. What can we do together to help increase everyone’s access to the same opportunities?”

And with teens, we can add in discussion of systemic oppressions – classism, ableism, homophobia, and so on. If you think you can skip these discussions, you likely are coming from a place of privilege. As a white parent, I can choose whether or not to talk about this. If my kids had brown skin, it wouldn’t be an option to not talk about it. Check out this article on how white parents talking about racism can help their kids support friends of color: www.scarymommy.com/black-child-friends/

In an increasingly diverse society, the more we try to pretend racism and sexism and such are things of the past, the more we allow them to persist. Having open and honest conversations about diversity will help us work together toward a more equitable society for all.

Learn more: Even Babies Discriminate – excerpt from Nurture Shock: http://mag.newsweek.com/2009/09/04/see-baby-discriminate.html; Teaching Young Children to Resist Bias, from NAEYC: www.cccpreschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Teaching-Children-to-Resist-Bias4.pdf; What White Children Need to Know About Race: http://www.nais.org/magazines-newsletters/ismagazine/pages/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race.aspx