Tag Archives: race

Self-Esteem & Respecting Others

Diverse KidsEvery parent has been faced with the dilemma of a school-age child tearfully making one or both of these claims:

  • I hate my hair/skin/eye color/eye shape;
  • I’m not cool like FILL IN THE BLANK, s/he has the “perfect” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape.
It’s the worst feeling in the world and it can be exacerbated when you – the parent – possess what is deemed to be the “right” hair/skin/eye color/eye shape, according to the mystical (and completely mythological) thinking of grade-schoolers.
In a perfect world there would be a self-esteem booster shot that parents could request from the pediatrician or local pharmacy. But there’s not so we, as parents, have to provide that self-esteem booster.

Share Your Story

One of the first things I did when my child told me that he had the “wrong” hair type (curly) was to tell him that I had always longed to have curly hair when I was a little girl, which was true. I told him about the many perms I’d suffered through, the chemical smell that clung to my head, the embarrassment I felt when the perm didn’t come out just right, and all the time I’d spent getting my hair done or trying to curl it myself with a curling iron and tube of first-aid creme next to me to put on the inevitable burns.
I told him that his father had faced similar criticisms – that it’s just a part of life, unfortunately – but that you can’t let other people’s opinions about things like that consume you.
I let him know that there is always going to be someone who will tell you there’s something wrong with you. And I challenged him to ask what made those people the experts on what was right and wrong.
It was an early lesson in what I know will be one of the greatest tools I can give my child: the ability to question authority (even if that “authority” is a first-grader) and to think critically.

Media that Looks Like Them

It’s important to me that my child sees lots of different books, newspapers, magazines, TV, and online media that reflects diversity. For a long time after he first complained about his skin color, we would excitedly point out people on TV or in magazines who had the same skin color as he. I also tried to tell him about the people in those articles and show why they were exceptional or noteworthy. He may never be a politician or a tennis star, but it helps him to see successful people who look like him.

Building Your Child Up

I admit it: I think my child is the most beautiful person in the world. And I tell him that. I also tell him how kind he is. I compliment him when he shows good manners or helps a neighbor or younger cousin. I want to reinforce all the wonderful character traits he has – from physical beauty to sense of humor to academic skill to music ability and on and on. I want to help him see all the things that I value in him so that he will learn to value that in himself.

Making Connections

I try to make sure that my child sees my relationships with people of different races, religions, ages, economic status, etc. I want him to know that I care about these people and am happy to have them in my life because of all the things that can’t be seen. But at the same time, I compliment these friends to my child so he can understand there is no one definition of beauty.

Family Reflections

We are fortunate to have a diverse family and I point this out to my child. I talk about the attributes he got from me and from his father and I let him know that he is the perfect blend of the two of us and I would never change a thing about his appearance.
As far as we’ve come as a country and a culture, we still have a long way to go before we are truly able to see others clearly. But teaching our children to have respect for themselves will ultimately enable them to have respect for others, as well.
Here are some more resources that may help as you grapple with the right way to handle these issues with your own child:

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I Spy With My Little Eye . . .

Today my son asked me to name all his friends who are brown. He claimed he could only name one. I actually started to name all his friends and family members who are non-white until I realized that wasn’t really what he needed to hear. Instead, I talked to him about what we should look for in a friend – and color wasn’t one of the criteria.

My criteria are simple: kind, smart, fun, interesting. That’s kind of it. I don’t care about much more than this – and these are criteria that all my friends, white, brown, black, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Phillies fan, Yankee fan, Orioles fan, vegetarian, carnivore, reader, non-reader have in common.

Sometimes kids ask us questions and it’s hard to know what they need to hear in response. I have been guilty of over-talking MANY topics with my son: race, how babies are made, politics, why he should try new foods, my reasons for not subscribing to Club Penguin for him, and on and on.

The truth is, sometimes he doesn’t need all that (most of the time he doesn’t need all that), but sometimes I need to look past the question he is asking to the question he needs answering.

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Meet Mom, the Guest Speaker

I got a really great opportunity to talk about my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso, West Africa today. My son’s first-grade teacher and I have been planning it for a while, but it turned out even better than expected. All four of the first-grade classes (and their teachers) joined me and the school librarian in the library for a 40-minute presentation on Africa.

I showed them photos of the house in which I lived, the teachers and administrators at the school where I worked, and even what our village market day looked like.

The kids’ questions were hilarious. Several tried to convince me they have a camel at their house or that they have owned a pet monkey!

This was my third time presenting in one of my son’s classes – I’ve been doing this since he was in pre-school – and this was definitely the best. Not only am I getting more comfortable about what information will most interest them, but I’m also better attuned to how certain answers to questions can be interpreted.

For instance, when I talk about the kinds of foods people eat in Burkina Faso, the gross-out factor for 6 year-olds raised on Kraft mac n cheese and pizza is high and that makes me feel like I’m disrespecting the Burkinabe people who were so kind and welcoming to me when I lived there. Now, I downplay those kinds of things.

The best question I got was from a little girl who asked me if everyone in my village was brown. It was a great opportunity for me to talk about how the children of the village reacted to me, a German/Irish-American with very light blue eyes and straight blonde hair.

To be frank, the little ones were TERRIFIED of me. I looked like no one they had ever seen – probably ghost-like – and they screamed if I got too close. Over time I wore them down with my charm, but in the beginning they wouldn’t even let me touch them for fear that my white skin would rub off on them!

It was a great teachable moment because, although my son’s school is very diverse, he has had run-ins with kids who “don’t like brown people.” As a Burkinabe-American, my son is dealing with things at 5 and 6 that I didn’t have to address until I was 22 years old. He is my little hero and I’m glad I got the chance to help open some eyes about the kindness, culture, and warmth of the Burkinabe people I knew. ¬†And to reinforce the fact that our skin color is one of the least interesting things about us as people.

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