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Talking to very young children about race and disabilities.

I've been trying to write this posts for months, but haven't been able to put it into words, but after tonight, I need to know how to deal with this.

For the past six months or so, T has been noticing race. He stares at all the black men that we see (some of the kids at daycare have black dads that do drop off and pick up). One of the dad's has commented on it (I didn't really realize it, but T was staring over my shoulder). He laughed it off, because he had crazy hair and a long beard, but I've noticed that he won't take his eyes off another dad who is black (and very clean shaven).

Tonight at the store, a family with two members with disabilities walked into the aisle that we were in. T kept staring at them, and started pointing and saying "No!" I shushed him and put his arm down. One of the sons was making some noises and T started to freak out- whining and crying and staring. I tried to get him interested in the things on the shelf, and kept putting his arm down, but it really upset me- I didn't know what to do, and didn't want to be "that" person.

I don't know what to do. I don't want to not talk about it, but I don't know how to do it in an age-appropriate way. I haven't noticed him acting different around children his own age, but still, I don't want this to ever be an issue.


EDIT: He's almost two. He hasn't been pointing out any differences, but he is acting different. 


Re: Talking to very young children about race and disabilities.

  • Not talking about it makes it seems like being a different color is "wrong."  I came across this article earlier in the year and really liked it.

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  • the only thing we've really talked with jonah about is how people look different but can still be friends.  we point out children's different races on sesame street so if he has any questions, the person isn't actually there. we haven't said anything about appropriate terminology or anything, and i think that there comes a time when kids just notice that people are different but that it doesn't mean that they are being rude or judgmental. 

    jonah refers to his black classmates as "brown-skinned," which they are.  we haven't corrected him yet. 

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  • There are some great books you can read with him that show how even though people may look different we are still the same.  I teach sped and had a brother with multiple disabilities so I love exposing children to this idea.  I don't know how young he is orhowcapable but I'd start with books.  I'll try to get some titles for you


  • I remember somebody posting an article talking about how important it is to talk about it and how people from our parents generation raised us to not talk about it, thus causing a bigger problem/divide. It was extremely eye opening and totally changed the way I will raise S. I think it was a Time article, let me see if I can find it...

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  • Natalie started taking notice of people of different races (and calling her new best friend in preschool "the little brown girl," when she couldn't remember her name at the beginning of the year), I think I said something to the effect of "isn't it cool how God made people all different colors of the rainbow?  Maybe you can ask your friend her name again tomorrow."

    And then hoped and prayed I said the right thing.

    She has stared at people in wheelchairs before and I said something about how some people use wheelchairs to get around, and some people walk.  

    I don't think you need to get into details regarding race and specific disabilities at this point, because if he's really young, he won't understand anyways.  At that age, I don't think he's passing judgement so much as just being curious about something different than what he's used to seeing.  So he'll follow your lead on how to react, you know?


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  • image speckledfrog:

    Not talking about it makes it seems like being a different color is "wrong."  I came across this article earlier in the year and really liked it.

    fantastic.  the thing i thought we were doing right (teaching jonah that people with different color skin can be friends) is the first thing the article points out doesn't work. LOL!

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  • in high school, i was the student coordinator of a program that took high school kids and trained them and then sent them in to elementary schools to teach "prejudice reduction" and multiculturalism to the little kids.  we used lots of cool games and stuff which you can probably find online.

    my favorite involved making a hand-held mirror out of cardboard but, instead of glass, it had colored saran wrap in the middle.  you have the kid pick a friend and list all of the reasons why they're friends, (she's nice, she's smart, she's funny, we have fun together, we play soccer together, etc).  then you have them look at their friend through the colored mirror and ask if she is still all those things she mentioned.  then ask what's different about her and the answer is that she's a different color.  it was really neat to see the kids "get it."  

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  • image speckledfrog:

    Not talking about it makes it seems like being a different color is "wrong."  I came across this article earlier in the year and really liked it.

    Interesting article.

    I don't have any good advice for you, huber.  This is a delicate but very important issue to explain to your child.

    My parents never had any talks with me about this stuff, but, as a minority, I imagine my view is different.  I agree with the article linked by speckledfrog that my concerns would involve being discriminated against, not engaging in discrimination.

    Of course, this is not to say that minorities don't discriminate against white people.  They do.  But I would think that a primary focus of preparing minority children for racial differences would be for those children to be proud of their race or ethnicity or to stand up for themselves, etc. if need be, just as the article stated.

    I'm very interested in reading everybody's thoughts on educating children about diversity.

  • Great article. But I still don't know how to talk to him about it. He's a smart kid, but he's two.
  • The extent of my two-year-old nephew's "communication" is grunting for food.  He may be a bit behind.  LOL.

    I think it's fine to wait a bit. Wink

  • image misoangry:

    The extent of my two-year-old nephew's "communication" is grunting for food.  He may be a bit behind.  LOL.

    I think it's fine to wait a bit. Wink

    Well, he's a bit above that. 

    I guess my biggest concern is that it is entirely possible that he will have very little contact with minorities once he hits school. 

    I apologize for being crazy about this. But it's been weighing on me for a long time, lol. 

  • At that age, I would do lots of exposure. Get some picture books with diverse kids in them, read the book, don't necessarily point out the diversity. Watch shows with diverse kids, sesame street is a good other words, normalize it. And as he gets older, that article is amazing.
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