How I’m teaching my daughter about skin color
June 1, 2015
My daughter is 2-and-a-half years old. This means that she’s wiggly, defiant, curious, and very observant. Embarrassingly observant. Painfully observant.
Most people understand. One time in line at the grocery store, she (loudly) stated from the cart “he have glasses, dat fwend have glasses” while pointing at the WOMAN directly behind me in line. She refers to everyone as “friends” and also refers to everyone as “he.” The woman just smiled and went on with unloading her groceries. Innocent enough, right?
A few months ago she noticed my eye color. She loved studying my and my husband’s eyes and saying “mommy has bue suh-kles (blue circles),” and “daddy has bwown suh-kles (brown circles).” It was cute. And then she noticed our hair, and my hair is not blonde in case you were wondering, it’s yellow. And daddy’s is black. Adorable, right?
And then one day, we were driving in the car and from the backseat we heard her say, “Daddy is brown and mommy is pink and I am pink.”
To a 2-year old who only knows basic colors, I realized she’s pretty much right. How does it even make sense to say that my skin is “white” or that my husband’s is “black?” It was cute, but caught us a little bit off-guard and we sort of side-glanced at each other as if asking “what do we do?” We harshly whispered “don’t laugh, don’t draw attention to it or she’ll do it all the time!” So we said, “yes, that’s right.” Later, we did laugh and talk about how cute it was that toddlers see the world through such innocent, pure eyes.
But this also got us thinking about how to teach her about skin color, and we realized there was a problem with our reaction.
We didn’t react in shock and look at each other with big eyes when she noticed our eye or hair color. We didn’t shush each other when we laughed at how she said I had “bue suh-kles,” afraid that if we drew attention to it she might repeat it. Because so what if she repeats our hair or eye color? So why did we react that way to skin color?
To my sweet, sweet child it was just another observation. Why would skin color be any different than hair color or eye color?
And then it hit me: it isn’t.
There is absolutely no reason to shush or discourage her from noticing skin color just like there’s no reason to shush or discourage her from noticing eye or hair color. And when we’re out and about, if she notices someone else’s skin, eye, or hair color we just say “that’s right, very good sweetie” and that’s that.
*Let me add a quick side-note: Before we even had children, we had talked about this, and how we would teach our children about skin color. We have heard remarks and seen how some people think about and treat those in interracial marriages. We’ve experienced racism. We knew our children would be a good mix of the two of us and, although we hated to think about it, would probably experience it to some extent as well. We talked about how we would teach them not to see skin color, but to see everyone the same.
This theology went straight out the window when we were put in a real-life situation.
(Isn’t it funny how we think we know all about parenting BEFORE we have children? And then they come and we’re like “oh shoot, what do we do?”)
Here is the conclusion we came to after all of this went down:
We want our daughter to think about skin color the way she thinks about eye or hair color: unimportant.
We don’t react any differently to her observation of skin color than we do to any other observation she makes because the colors on our body do not determine our kindness, our courage, our intelligence, our ability to serve others, or our worth. We will teach our children that skin color is a beautiful attribute, just like eye or hair color, but that we don’t focus on any of them more than the others, and that they have nothing to do with a person’s integrity or character.
I know this is a sensitive subject for many. Believe me, I know. As I look back on this whole ordeal, it makes me sad that we had the initial reaction that we did. But our intentions are to make her mind more open and her heart more compassionate. I hope that if she ever does hear anyone being put down for any physical characteristics that she’ll stand up for them because she understands that the value of a person is not determined by what they look like on the outside. As she loves and gets to know more pink or brown or orange or green family members and friends, those with or without glasses, those who are tall or short, small or large, loud or quiet, I hope she learns how to love even more deeply as she realizes how different and wonderful each of them are, and that “amazing” isn’t bound by color, shape, or size. It’s okay to be different, we don’t need to ignore our differences because every single person is different from the next in one way or another.
I read a cool post online about a woman who would tell her daughter every day that the most important parts of her body are her head and her heart. That stuck with me and now I ask my daughter the same thing every day, but I follow up with “because you have to use your head and follow your heart.” She loves reciting this, and I hope it sticks with her and she can acknowledge situations where she does just those things. I’m hoping that if the earliest lessons she learns and remembers are that her mind and her heart are her most valuable attributes, it will save her a lot of heartache as she grows and hears people trying to persuade her that her worth is measured by how she looks.
Most importantly, I hope she sets an example to those around her of how to love and serve without hesitation.
That’s my goal.
But I’m still trying to figure parenting out. I’m pretty confident that I’ll screw up several times because let’s be honest, she’s only 2.5 and I already have. Hopefully, my intentions shine through my mistakes and she learns these lessons without too many setbacks from her imperfect mother. And judging from this experience, I’m quite certain that she’ll teach me far more than I’ll ever teach her.
What are your experiences with teaching your children about skin color or other physical differences? What advice would you give to those of us still trying to figure it out?
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