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Here’s What To Say When Your Child Points Out Race (Hint: Don’t Shush Them)
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Though few parents ever intend to teach their kids hate, many are now grappling with the role they’ve played—and continue to play—in propagating racism. So how can we work to do better? On a recent episode of Mom Brain, Daphne Oz and Hilaria Baldwin chatted with pediatric psychologist and parent coach Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart on tactics for raising anti-racist children, and what to do when your kiddo loudly points out the color of a stranger’s skin in the middle of the supermarket. Here, a few of her smartest takeaways.

1. The Goal Isn’t to Be Colorblind; It’s to Introduce Difference Through Play

Hilaria Baldwin: How early do you begin? I’ve got a six-year-old, a four-year-old, a three-year-old and a two-year-old. At these ages, how much should we say [about race] and how much of it is [teaching them to] love and support everybody right now?

Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart: I often hear people say, well, I want to raise my kids to be colorblind. Or I don’t want them see color. And I always tell them: That’s not the goal. The goal isn’t to be colorblind. I obviously have a different color than someone else. Everybody has different colors, different shades. I don’t want kids to be raised to be colorblind because we see who is in front of us. What I want to teach kids—including my own—is not to treat someone differently because of their color. That’s the big distinction for me. 

From a very early age, most of how kids learn is through play and through symbolism, so lot is about exploring and introducing [diverse] things in their lives. For example, having art that’s done by different artists in your home. Or dolls that are of different colors. Or movies that represent different cultures and ethnicities. 

2. Hidden Bias Requires Self-Reflection, and a Script for When Biases Come Up

Daphne Oz: Where do you think the hidden biases are happening? How can parents navigate it for themselves and their children?

Lockhart: We have to do the work about what your own biases are first. Because we all have them. You may not be a blatant racist, but you have some prejudices because we all make judgements about people before you even know them. You automatically assume, ‘Oh, she’s blond’ or ‘She’s a redhead’ or ‘She’s Hispanic’ or ‘She’s Black.’ They’re not always done out of ill will, but it’s because of what we were raised with, so we all have to do that work. We have to create a different narrative based on what was instilled in us and I think that’s what makes it a big deal. So, when your kid makes a little remark like, ‘Look at her, she’s [blank]’—whatever it is—you have to be able and ready to correct it in the moment and educate them on why that’s not appropriate. Not in a shaming way, but in an educational way, so we can start changing it.

Oz: What words would you say so that you’re not shaming your kids, but you are educating them at the same time in that scenario?

Lockhart: My son actually did do that when he was much younger. He said, ‘OMG, look at that person, she looks so pale with freckles. What’s wrong with her?’ And I said, ‘Oh! You noticed that she looks very different than you. Look at how differently her skin looks from you. Yeah, you noticed that. Just like you have brown skin and I call you cinnamon, she has skin that’s lighter than you and she also has freckles and you notice that she has red curly hair.’ It’s about noticing the difference. Prioritize, ‘Oh! You noticed that,’ and go from there.

3. Explain Current Events in Age-Appropriate Ways

Baldwin: How can we take this opportunity to describe to our children [what is going on in the world]? Is it better for them if we protect them and shield them?

Lockhart: That’s where it really depends on the age. My kids are 7 and 10, but they don’t know what’s actually happening right now. They don’t need to. For me, personally, I don’t think that I need to be exposing them to all the ugliness and all the debating that’s going on right now.

If [your kids are] really little, I would say [rely heavily on] books. It’s about having a variety of books that bring up culture, race and differences. Again, it doesn’t have to be blatant. When you look at the best children’s books and the best children’s movies, there’s symbolism in terms of celebrating differences and celebrating people who are different than you. So, at that age, that’s when the dolls, the toys, that stuff comes in.

As they’re older--say, pre-teen, tween, teenager--they’re going to be exposed because they’re on Tik Tok, social media and the news, so you need to have open conversations with them. Also, based on your ethnic background, you need to talk to them about what they think and how they feel about it. So, yes, I believe that you have to have those discussions. But I also think we should constantly be having those discussions. Ask about what they are learning in books and on TV, but also make sure they’re watching things that have different people represented.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart, listen to her recent appearance on our podcast, ‘Mom Brain,’ with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz and subscribe now.

RELATED: We Need to Talk to Young Children About Race and Anti-Racism. Here’s How to Get Started

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