I always think it’s great when kids are inquisitive and ask questions, because they are generally interested in learning. Sometimes though, these questions can make us feel uncomfortable and leave us scrambling for the right answers, while other times it’s a hidden learning opportunity that we must uncover. My youngest son, who is 3, loves to point out different objects when we are driving and tell me their color. Lately, he has had an obsession with his skin color and everyone else’s actually. He is extremely olive skinned and tells me he is the color brown. He recently told his older brother, who is 5 and much paler than he, that they are not the same color. My response was that no matter what color your skin is, everyone is the same inside and skin color is just that, a color. My older son then asked what color he would be considered by others, which I thought was a very interesting question and thought process. I told him that our family is considered Caucasian, or more simply put, white, which was very confusing to him. It especially puzzled my 3 year old who then proceeded to cry and insist that he is brown, not white. Trying to reason with a 3 year old is not easy, so I gave up and said that he is right and that his skin is brown. I wasn’t giving him wrong information since his skin is sort of brownish and not anywhere close to what he has learned as the color white.
I love that children are so innocent and have their own rules for life, and find their naïve curiosity an incredible way to learn and explore. That said, their questions and statements can be inappropriate in the adult world but need to be seen as a wonderful opportunity to educate them. Our explanations and conversations with our children are so important and can mold their minds for the rest of their lives. When kids notice something different, they jump all over it and question it, which at their age, is their job. As parents, our job is to teach our children that being different is okay and in fact, something that makes us all special. This is not an article about race but an article about seizing the moment with your children and recognizing opportunities to educate them. My message to my children is that whether your skin is pale, tan, black, white, brown, or covered in freckles, we are all the same on the inside and we don’t judge anyone based on what they look like. I do make it a point to let them know that their inquisitiveness and questions are a good thing and are always welcome, but we of course want to be sensitive to others while expressing ourselves.
A friend of mine recently told me of an incident that occurred in the parking lot of a local supermarket where she and her 3 year old son had just finished shopping. Her son noticed the skin color of the gentleman that was helping them bring their groceries to the car, and articulated quite loudly that he didn’t like the color black or this man’s skin color. Of course my friend was mortified and quickly took her son aside to tell him that his words were hurtful and inappropriate. He is 3, and of course did not realize that just because he doesn’t like the color black, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t like a person with black skin. This concept was confusing to her son so she created a relatable discussion, mentioning his unique red hair. She told him that none of his friends have red hair and that mommy and daddy do not have red hair, so how would he feel if no one wanted to play with him because the color of his hair and the fact that it was different? He agreed that it would be mean and realized that his statement to the store employee was not appropriate. My friend also pointed out that his favorite teacher at nursery school also has black skin and that he loves her, so didn’t understand why he would have ill feelings about this stranger in the parking lot, based on his black skin. His response was that her skin isn’t black, but that it is brown, which reminded me of what my son had said about his skin color. Clearly, my friend’s son was not being malicious or racially prejudiced, but was simply basing his negative statement on what colors of the rainbow he preferred. I like this story so much because the opportunity to teach our children lifelong lessons like this appear on a daily basis, and we need to be on the lookout and recognize them. Instead of my friend getting angry with her son and immediately looking for a way to punish him, she explained what he had done wrong, why his words were hurtful and without foundation, and spoke to her son on a level that he could understand and relate to. A true Mommy Master!
Our children ask questions and make statements that we may find offensive, but to them, they are calling it like they see it. There is no hate or malintent, but in fact, naivety and innocent ignorance. How do you turn your children’s questions and statements into life lessons? Please share your experiences with Mommy Masters.