“My kid is too young, I don’t need to think we need to talk about cultural identity so soon, right?”
Parents of young kids often feel conversations involving seemingly heavy topics like how we look, what we wear, what we eat, what we sound like, and how we are named, are conversations that don’t need to be addressed until much later. But science tells us that kids notice differences as early as 2-6 months of age. More importantly, the reality is that kids get called out for these obvious differences as early as their preschool and kindergarten years.
Kids can point out differences innocently –
“ Why does that girl have dark skin?”
“ Why is her hair so bushy?”
“ Why does that kid speak funny?”
“Why does his food smell yucky?”
So, do we wait for our kids to experience and internalise these statements, affecting their self-esteem, or do we have the conversations early on and give them a head start with the confidence they need? It’s a no-brainer, right?
So here are 5 easy peasy tips to inculcate these conversations early in your child’s everyday life.
1. Use the everyday occasions around you: Be it a walk in the park or a visit to the salon for a haircut, use opportunities in the everyday environment to have conversations about differences. “Just like these leaves, our skin colours are different, isn’t that beautiful?” “Look at all those different hair colours and types – some are curly, some are straight… how wonderful is that?” – Contextualizing the environment spontaneously, even if for 5 minutes, will help seed positive thoughts into your child’s mind.
2. Ask questions: You’ll be surprised how much kids don’t tell you. They hear things, they take it to heart, they internalise it, and before you know it – it has affected their self-esteem and confidence. So make it a point to ask specific questions every day. We have a fun scale we use – “ Was it a Fun 10 type of day or was it a Fun 5 type of day?” It brings out the not-so-nice things that happened either to your child or someone else as well as the nice things. We also play the Let me Guess Game – “ I guess that you had lunch with Noah, am I right? I guess that storytime was about a girl with long hair, am I correct? “ Prompting imaginary situations leads to a story tumbling out and important values like kindness, cultural awareness, and empathy can be addressed.
3. Watch out for stereotypes: Stereotypes exist whether we like it or not, even within us. Years of social conditioning make us say things that our kids pick up very quickly. Watch out for your own biases, and what you’re passing on. Unsuspecting family members are also a source of transferring biases. “Don’t play in the sun, you’ll become darker”, “ Girls need to sit cross-legged, they can’t monkey around on trees…” Oh look, how beautiful that girl is with blue eyes and blonde hair – just like a princess” …. These comments get internalised quicker than you think. So keep an eye out and address them immediately.
4. Open their minds & hearts: Diversify your playroom. Diversify your bookshelves. There is definitely enough material out there inspired by different looks, body types, celebrations, clothes, and cultures. Representation at a young age gives children confidence, they feel less “different”, especially if they are being raised in a diverse environment where they might be a minority. They also need a window into the world, to ]understand that there is a whole world filled with different out there. So, open their minds, their hearts, and your homes to the world of difference.
5. Consistency for the win: This is not a one-time or one-off conversation. It is a continuous process of checking in, moulding, having conversations, asking questions, and growing the mind of little humans. The good news is that it can be done in a fun, delightful, short span of time.
So let’s create a more empathetic generation of the future – together!
Follow @indigrowkids for more play and conversation about raising kids in a multicultural world. Head to www.indigrowkids.com for more!