The Denver Metro area is now home to a culturally diverse population that is growing rapidly. In fact, Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs made the U.S. News Nation’s Most Diverse list. In addition to the mountain west lifestyle, the Denver Metro area is the perfect place to experience and appreciate different cultures and past times. Children’s Hospital Colorado is proud to be your parent partner to help raise inclusive children.
How to Raise an Inclusive Child
Research shows that babies can detect differences in skin color by 6 months old – and they tend to look longer at faces with skin color closer to their own. By age 2 kids internalize stereotypes and connect aspects of people’s behavior to their race. Three-year-olds actively prefer sharing within their own racial group. Prejudice starts early. Without our noticing, discrimination is baked right into our developmental experiences.
“People don’t think kids notice these differences,” says Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatrician Brandi Freeman, MD, who also serves as Associate Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “But they do.”
So how to raise inclusive children? The two best things parents can do, say Dr. Freeman, are talk about race, and bring diversity into your child’s world.
Talking about race
Race is a complex topic in America, and it’s not an easy one to navigate — for families of any color, ethnicity or background.
“Talking about race is uncomfortable,” says Jenna Glover, PhD, child psychologist and Director of Psychology Training at Children’s Colorado. “Especially for white families, there’s a fear, ‘I’m going to do it wrong. I don’t want to offend anyone or implant ideas in my kid’s head that are going to make it worse.’ There’s a myth that if I talk to my kids about race, then that will cause racism to happen.”
The opposite is true. Children pick up on racial differences because people around them behave in ways that show these differences matter. When adults shy away from acknowledging those differences, that may send the message to kids that racial differences are bad or wrong. The research backs that idea up: Kids display less racial bias when caregivers talk about race than when they don’t.
Another thing to keep in mind, Drs. Glover and Freeman observe, is that talking about race is optional only for white families. For families and kids of color, these talks are mandatory. Kids’ safety may depend on them.
In fact, for white families, choosing not to talk about it is itself an example of privilege that families of color don’t have. As kids get older, parents can explain what privilege is, how it works and how to be an ally when prejudice and discrimination occur.
Making space for diversity
Most people in the United States live in a pretty segregated world. Our neighborhoods, schools and services, the places we go and the people we see, tend to be divided by race. For example, 80% of white families live in a neighborhood that’s more than 80% white. Because of this, many white families consider whiteness standard or normal. That expectation applies not just to skin color but to culture: things like clothing, hairstyles, jewelry and the way people talk. People who differ from those expectations (often people of color) experience discrimination.
“You don’t want to be like, ‘I gotta go out and get my child a Black friend,’” adds Dr. Freeman. “But for example, my parents made a conscious effort to make sure the healthcare providers I saw as a child were African American. I actually thought there were only Black doctors. I was in middle school I think the first time I saw a doctor who wasn’t Black. So it’s like, who do you see? Where do you see people? In what roles?”
The biggest thing, Drs. Freeman and Glover say, is to keep in mind that kids do and say racist things sometimes, as do we all. And when they do it’s important for parents to call them on it. And to call themselves out, too.
“Just don’t be afraid of it,” says Dr. Freeman. “Don’t be afraid when kids ask questions. Don’t be surprised and don’t shy from them. Kids do internalize racism. Society makes you do that. Even the words we use — what does it mean when we call something ‘ghetto?’ Kids see that stuff. They’re always watching. The question is, how are we responding?”
For more tips and specific examples of navigating conversations on racism and suggestions and ways to create diverse experiences for kids, read the full article, “Talking to Kids About Race and Privilege” at childrenscolorado.org.