Last month – like many months since the most recent presidential campaign began – it was difficult to watch events unfold in the U.S.A from here in Vietnam. White supremacy seems to be gaining popularity and political traction in the country where I am a citizen, and the voice of the alt-right seems to be growing louder in Europe as well.
The violence in Charlottesville, North Carolina served as a reminder that children all around the world are subject to racism and that we, as their caregivers, must help them navigate their environments to promote safety and kindness. As a teacher in the international school environment, I consider myself lucky to teach children who come from many countries, and have different skin colors, languages, customs, and cultures. I believe that the more nations represented, the more learning that can take place. But the question remains: How to do we begin the conversation about race with our children?
In researching this article, the biggest tip from parenting experts is to acknowledge the obvious differences between people. Staying silent on race teaches your children that the topic is embarrassing or shameful.
The Washington Post reports “Researchers say babies as young as 6 months can distinguish skin color and facial features among ethnic groups. So when your 3-year-old points and asks at the grocery store, “Why is he black?” Don’t hush or ignore him. Instead help him. Re-frame the question, “Yes, he is black. Do you want to go say hello and ask him what his name is?” Toddlers ask, “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why is his skin black?” in the same breath. They don’t associate meaning until they intuit our discomfort.”
It is also important to expose your children to diversity and discourage labeling. If children hear adults around them saying “That white lady” or “That black man” then they will begin to speak in similar ways.
If your child is upset with another child and says something about their skin colour or their ethnicity, validate their emotion while reminding them that the person they are upset with is an individual. If your child makes an offensive remark or says someone is bad because they look different, ask them to apologise, and explain that different does not mean bad. Another good idea is monitoring the media with your child. News and films often portray stereotypes that can go unchecked, but if you are there, you can use the media for teachable moments.
For many families living abroad, talking about race is not an option, it’s a necessity. Research is showing that the earlier we start acknowledging our differences and promoting diversity, the more we prepare our children to live in a multi-ethnic society.
Shannon Brown is a head teacher at Smart Kids International with a Master’s in Public Health. She cultivates healthy living by practicing yoga and rock climbing and has been living and teaching in HCM since 2014.