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5 tips to talk to kids about skin colour & why you need to start early

5 tips to talk to kids about skin colour & why you need to start early

" Stay out of the sun. You'll get tanned"

Relatives and neighbours tell Mira to stay out of the sun. They’ll comment on how tanned Mira is looking after spending a glorious summer vacation at the beach or a camping trip. They’ll recommend Mira use special creams or homegrown remedies to fix the damage to her skin. You know this story, it happens all the time!

Mira, 5 years old, thinks to herself. 

If you’re fair, you are pretty. Actors and actresses are always fair. In school, the fair kids are so confident. They are always chosen to perform on stage. I’m not fair. I'll never be beautiful and confident. I’ll never get chosen to perform on stage.”

These comments and assumptions impact millions of kids like Mira’s self worth not just as children but also well into adulthood. It influences how they see themselves. It changes their behavioural patterns. And yet, we never address it! 

Talking about our skin colour may be hard, awkward or uncomfortable. But, here’s why you should talk about it sooner rather than later...They end up making their own assumptions about skin colour based on media and their own experiences.

So, what happens when we don’t have these essential conversations at an early age?

1. They don’t grow up normalising it. They believe that talking about differences in skin colour is taboo. Our little ones recognise differences in skin colour, just as they recognise the difference between a red and a yellow car. While we have no problem acknowledging that the cars look different, most of us feel awkward or uncomfortable to talk about the differences in our skin colour. This confuses our kids. They can see skin colour differences and biases exist but nobody is willing to talk about it.

2. It harms their self image. Lack of normalisation leads to lack of acceptance and self celebration. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, there will always be someone who is perceived to be better than you. This can cause deep insecurities in a child.

3.They lose their sense of belonging in their struggle to fit in. When your little one’s skin colour is different from her peers or family, it can impact their natural need to fit in. This impacts their social interactions. 

4. They pass on social biases. When they don’t know any better, they pass on the social biases they hear. “He looks dirty.” “ All poor people are darker.” “She’s so dark. She’s not pretty at all.” “You can’t be the princess. Have you ever seen a dark princess?” Do we really want our child to be the one making hurtful comments? 

Here’s 5 quick tips to make talking about skin colour with your littles a bit easier for you. 

1. Explain the science - It’s simple really. The colour of our hair, skin and eyes comes from Melanin. The more melanin in our body, the darker the colour of our skin. 

2. Explore different skin shades and tones - We are all same and different in the way we look. Normalise differences in skin colour. There will always be someone whose skin will be lighter or darker than yours. That’s okay. Explore and discuss the many different skin shades and tones you see in the people around you, including yours and your child’s. 

3. Use everyday opportunities for representation of all skin colours. Read story books that celebrate different skin colours, play with diverse dolls, go beyond peach crayons for colouring and drawing bodies. Refer to the stories, dolls, experiences to reinforce your message when the opportunity arises. 

4. Be proud of your own skin colour - Move past your own discomfort and truly celebrate yourself. When we speak positively about ourselves, how we look and how we feel, we show our children how to be proud of who we are. Nothing influences our children more than us. 

5. Give them the right words to use. Our little ones don’t always have the right words to express themselves. They need us to teach them empowering phrases to be able to stand up for themselves.  “The Colour of my skin comes from Melanin. I love the skin I'm in.”

Peek into this delightful playbook and activity kit from indigrowkids helping you guide this conversation. 

Follow @indigrowkids for more play and conversation about raising kids in a diverse, multicultural world. Head to indigrowkids for books, games, playkits, songs and more...

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