Talking to children about race and identity

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Running March 14 through April 1, the Schools Committee of the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race will be hosting three workshops to help parents, teachers and anyone working with children gain an understanding of the stages of racial knowledge, how to talk with children about race, and a session on the challenges faced by multiracial children and children whose families are of a different racial background. Sessions will take place at South Orange Middle School twice and once at Montrose Learning Center, a co-sponsor of the workshop. The workshop will be taught by NYU psychology professor Diane Hughes. No registration is required, but RSVPs are appreciated at http://www.twotowns.org/2017/02/07/talking-to-children-about-race-identity-workshop-series/.

Children begin the development of racial attitudes at a very young age. As early as six months, babies are beginning to sort out differences in skin color and can develop racial biases as early as three years old, despite the attitudes of the adults in their lives. Children have very complex understandings of differences and stereotypes. And, at times, they judge people based on stereotypes that adults might like to believe they are unaware of. Saying nothing or minimizing the situation when we are confronted with instances of bigotry or our children’s flawed ideas about “difference” can reinforce persistent societal biases.

What can we do? Creating a home environment that supports open communication about race and difference is a start. When we are intentional about talking about race with our children at all ages, we help them develop their understanding of racial and cultural identity as well as become thoughtful members of a diverse society. It is important that the adults in our children’s lives — parents, guardians and teachers — are providing them with the tools they need to understand difference, develop a positive self-identity and learn how to advocate for themselves and others.

  • The workshop “Inter-racial Families: Racial Identity in Our Society” will be Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the South Orange Middle School Library. Multiracial children and transracial adoptees have identity needs that are different from single-race children. Many psychologists believe multiracial and multiethnic children have a particularly difficult time determining racial identity in this society. Families face issues like children identifying with only one parent, not identifying with either, rejecting certain family identities, not fitting in among peers with a strong sense of identity, and difficulty navigating questions like “what are you?” How can parents and the greater community involved in multiracial families’ lives grow in their understanding and provide positive support?
  • The workshop “The Language of Race and Identity: Growing Our Understanding” will be Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m. at the South Orange Middle School Library. Children’s comments are sometimes embarrassing, and their questions can force us to face issues we would rather avoid. Moreover, they may experience racism or the pain of being judged based on heritage or culture. In this workshop participants will learn current vocabulary that supports anti-racism and multicultural understanding in the home. Participants will learn how to develop responses to the questions about race and race observations children make, and the racism they experience. Experts will give concrete suggestions for choosing books that generate discussion and help build conversations.
  • The workshop “Talking to Your Pre-Schooler: The First Conversations” will be Saturday, April 1, at 10 a.m. at the Montrose Learning Center. What does your pre-schooler know about race and identity? How do we introduce race and culture to young children? Honest conversations about race and racism are not easy at any age, nor are questions answered with a single talk. Learn how children see and understand race, and develop ways to support healthy racial and ethnic identity development in them. Come away with approaches and strategies that support ongoing conversations with your child that address racism, build respect and promote empathy, thus helping to raise racially sensitive children. The CCR will provide a list of reading materials to deepen your understanding and help your family understand racial identity as well as develop a foundation for inclusive behaviors.

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