Harvard psychiatrist and race relations expert Alvin Poussaint shares tips on helping kids break through racial, ethnic and religious barriers.
1. Mix Your Media.
Choose books, toys, shows and music that include people of different ethnicities. If you spot racial stereotyping in movies, music or advertising, point it out to your children and spark age-appropriate critiques.
2. Widen Your Circle.
Populate your life with varied friends. If you don’t live in an integrated neighborhood with organic opportunities to interact, consider signing your kids up for extracurricular or volunteer programs with a diverse group. Studies have shown working toward a common goal is the best way to discover we’re “different yet the same.”
3. Support your School.
Most schools build multicultural education right into the curriculum, so be ready to reinforce what they’re learning. February, being Black History Month, is the perfect time to talk about the roots of racism and inequality in this country, as well as point out black role models from the past and present.
4. Explore Your World.
Expand your horizons by visiting museums – like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit or Arab American National Museum in Dearborn – with exhibits about a variety of cultures and religions. Attend multicultural festivals and concerts. Eat out at ethnic restaurants and talk about how history and geography influence the cuisine.
5. Be Inviting.
Book play dates with kids from varied backgrounds. Take a look at your own circle and have diverse guests to your home. “That will do more to make kids feel comfortable and not have prejudice than anything else,” Poussaint says.
6. Share Heritage.
Celebrate cultural events and attend religious services with friends of different faiths, and invite others to share in your cultural and religious traditions too.
7. Start Early.
Don’t wait for preschool to expose your kids to people from other backgrounds. That can lead to tension and awkward social interactions, Poussaint says. “Even before they learn to talk, children can learn other kids come in all different colors and types,” he says. “Prepare them for school, particularly if they’re going into a diverse population, so it doesn’t come as a surprise.”
8. Encourage Discussion.
Don’t shy away when kids ask tough questions about race. “You have to take an educational approach, not get anxious and realize kids are learning,” Poussaint says. “If a kid says ‘why is his hair wooly?’ or ‘how come color doesn’t wash off?’ he’s not being a bigot. He just doesn’t understand what skin color means.”
9. Check Yourself.
Are you sending mixed messages to your children? Be mindful of how you talk about other races and cultures. If you hear anyone – a friend, relative or your own child – use derogatory or stereotypical language, speak out. Silence will only allow prejudice to fester.
10. Confront the Headlines.
News reports of police brutality and crime are disturbing but can lead to important discussions. Poussaint says parents can follow up by letting children know not all people of one race are good or bad. “Explain the differences in society and give a balanced view,” he says.