Infants and toddlers are like sponges, observing the world around them and absorbing everything they see and hear. At just 2 months old, your baby will begin to recognize your face as their primary caregiver. At 3 months, your baby will begin to recognize other objects or faces, such as their favorite book or toy. Your child will become comfortable and familiar with these faces and objects as they are regularly exposed to them. In addition to this recognition of familiarity, infants as young as 6 months begin to categorize people by both gender and race – recognizing differences in skin color and hair textures. Even though your child is not able to ask questions, he or she will begin drawing conclusions about racial diversity as they observe the world around them.
Young children’s racial beliefs are heavily influenced by their environments. In less diverse environments, less exposure to diverse groups results in fewer conversations about diversity and, in turn, provides more room for prejudice. As parents, introducing racial diversity to very young children within these critical years can help your child to understand and form positive outlooks about racial differences from an early age. If we don’t take the time to help our children understand racial diversity, they are left to formulate their own conclusion about what “different” means – these conclusions can often reinforce biases. When we are intentional, we can impact the way that our children see, categorize, and derive value about race.
Ages 6 months to 1 year
Studies show that babies as young as 6 months old can recognize differences in skin color and hair textures. At such an impressionable age, parents can begin teaching their children in their day to day life. Consider expanding your child’s library to include a diverse selection of books. Ensure that your children’s toys represent all skin tones.
Additionally, do your best to expose your child to a diverse environment. It's important for kids to see their parents interact socially with people of other racial and ethnic groups. While it’s important to talk about physical differences (hair type, skin and eye color, and even height), you should also call attention to the special talents inherent in diversity – For example: “Everybody is special, and so-and-so is special because his family can speak another language.”
Ages 2 to 3
As children become more vocal, it is not unusual for a child to begin asking questions about the diversity they see around them – including expressing interest in the differences they see in skin tone, etc. This age is a good time to explore people's physical differences through play-based learning: When you're playing with toys point out various physical attributes: "This doll has a hat on, that one doesn't; this one has dark skin, that one doesn't."
A few things to remember:
- Be proactive, helping them build a positive awareness of diversity.
- Don't shush or shut them down if they mention race.
- Don't wait for kids to bring it up.
- When a child experiences prejudice, grown-ups need to both address the feelings and fight the prejudices.
- Parents: Take time to self-reflect on your own lived experiences and how they might impact your actions.
Advocating and exposing children to diversity requires active promotion. It is through daily interactions and observations that young children attribute meaning to race, culture, and other forms of diversity.
Cited Resource: Parents
Watch some of our favorite educational videos on embracing diversity.
Sing along and make the world aware that YOU love your hair!
“The worst conversation adults can have with kids about race is no conversation at all,” says author Jemar Tisby. “Talking to kids about race needs to happen early, often, and honestly.” In a new episode of Home School, The Atlantic’s animated series about parenting, Tisby offers advice on how to have a conversation with children about race, from experiential learning to watching classic animated films.
When her 3-year-old son told her that a classmate told him that his skin was brown because he drank chocolate milk, Dr. Tatum, former president of Spelman College and a visiting scholar at Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service, was surprised. As a clinical psychologist, she knew that preschool children often have questions about racial difference, but she had not anticipated such a question. But through conversations with her preschool son, followed by talking to teachers, colleagues, and parents, she came to realize it is the things we don’t say and the matters we don’t discuss with our children that find their way into racist dialogue and thinking.
Sometimes You're A Caterpillar
When do children distinguish the differences in race?
How can I best approach the topic of race with my child?
At what age do children form a racial bias?
What is implicit bias?
What is racial bias?
When should I start teaching/speaking to my children about diversity?
What should you do when your child points out a difference in other children?
Create a diverse library
Children gain pride in themselves—and increase understanding of others—as they listen to and look at this spectacular collection of stories. Create a library of books about children from faraway places and children from here at home, traditional stories and legends, and contemporary tales about life today.
- - 23 Books That Teach Young Kids About Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality
- - Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race
- - Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse children's books
- - Multicultural Stories Paperback Library
Diversify your toys
Children need to see and interact with people and images that look like them and others that don’t. Children increase cultural awareness and boost their self-esteem—with diverse toys that celebrate our differences.
- - Excellerations Plush Basket of Multicultural Sensory Baby
- - Dozen Kids Around the World Finger Puppets
- - Wooden Children of The World Racial Cognition Dress-up Puzzle
- - Basket Of Babies Set Of 6
- - Lakeshore Washable Baby Dolls
Skin Colored Playdough
- Description: Who doesn’t love playdough? Whip up a batch of this super simple DIY
- skin-colored playdough and spend the afternoon creating your community out of playdough. Be intentional about creating different shades of each color. While you play, talk with your child about the uniqueness of each person. Remind your child why our
- skin color varies. Be sure to check out this post for the full recipe and conversation guide.
Step 1: Open a pack of M&Ms and ask your child to explore them. How many different colors are there? How many total M&Ms are there?
Step 2: Have your child separate the candies by color.
Step 3: Conduct a taste testing of each color.
Step 4: Ask your child, do the different colors have different tastes? Why not?
Step 5: Explain that people are similar. Although we all look different on the outside, we are made of the same ingredients on the inside. The M&M is made of chocolate. We are made of skin, bones, blood, organs, etc. No matter what someone looks like on the outside, they have the same (biological) ingredients as you do on the inside.
Learning From Crayons
“We could learn a lot from crayons… (They) all are different colors, but they all exist very nicely in the same box.” -Source Unknown
Step 1: Give your child a sheet of construction paper and a crayon of the same color.
Step 2: Ask him or her to draw you a picture. Within a few seconds, your child will begin to complain that the crayon “doesn’t work”.
Step 3: Ask your child why he or she thinks the crayon isn’t working and how we could solve the problem. If he or she isn’t sure, give some tips. Encourage him or her to try the crayon on a different color of paper, or to use a different color of crayon. Once the child sees that the crayon is “working” take a look at the crayon box and begin a conversation that goes something like this: “Isn’t it good that we have all these different colors? Imagine if we only had one color in the whole world .. then we wouldn’t be able to draw! People are very similar. If all people looked and thought alike, our world wouldn’t work either. It is good that the world has a variety of people. Sometimes people get upset with one another because we look and think differently. We have to learn to be like the crayons a get along together, even though we are different. We can make much prettier pictures when we work together and use all of the colors.”
For this activity, you can use just a regular sheet of paper. Using your crayons (make sure you have a variety of skin-colored crayons) draw self-portraits. Encourage your child to accurately portray themselves as much as possible. Keep this age-appropriate- Encourage them to select a crayon that matches the skin and hair they actually have – you can help them draw this. If your child chooses a color that doesn’t accurately represent him or her, don’t scold or correct but ask why he or she chose that color. It could be that he chose green because it is his favorite color or he wanted to be the Hulk that day. Be sure to draw your own portrait of your child and compare the two drawings.
After drawing a self-portrait, encourage your child to draw one or two family members or friends. When the drawings are finished, take some time to talk about what is unique or special about each person.
The Egg Experiment
This is a great science-related activity about racial diversity.
Step 1: Purchase white eggs and brown eggs.
Step 2: Place one of each on the table and allow your child to explore the eggs using their five senses. Ask your child guiding questions like: What color are these two eggs? Why do you think one is brown and one is white? Is there any difference in how they feel or smell? Do you think they look different on the inside?
Step 3: Break the eggs and again use the five senses to explore. (Cook the eggs to taste them.)
The conversation: Do you know why some eggs are brown and some are white? White eggs are laid by white-feathered chickens and while brown eggs are laid by red-feathered chickens. Just like these eggs, our outside (skin) might look different from one another but our insides are the same.
What color paint are you?
Even within the same family, skin color varies. We want to help children realize that these variances are a normal part of life.
Step 1: Head to your local hardware store and explore the paint chips section.
Step 2: Find the paint-chip that most closely matches your skin color.
Step 3: “Rename” your skin tone using the name of the paint color that matches your skin. Instead of just being white, brown, or black we can become Winthrop Peach, Cinnamon Brandy, or Sarsparilla.
While playing with paint chips, ask your child:
- How does having a fun name for your skin color make you feel?
- Should we find a funny name for your hair/eyes/clothes too?
- Do you see how many different colors are here? Did you realize there were so many colors in the world?
- Remind your child that skin color is another feature that makes us unique, just like hair and eye color, no two people are exactly the same.