Raising Anti-Racist Kids: What to Say and Do

Two children smile and laugh as they look through magnifying glasses | Bright Horizons

Take a look at this webinar for guidance from our education and diversity experts on how to raise anti-racist children.

What will it take to raise truly anti-racist children? Not just kids who talk anti-racism, but future adults who feel it — who live the talk and whose inclusive behaviors are more than responsive, but built into their core belief systems, and into who they are.

Watch our hour-long discussion, "Raising Anti-Racist Kids: What to Say and Do," led by the Early Education and Diversity & Inclusion teams at Bright Horizons. Our experts discuss how to initiate courageous conversations, answer tough questions, take everyday actions that lay the groundwork for real change, and make a meaningful impact on who our children become.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

November 1, 2020


Scarlett: Hello, everyone, and welcome. My name is Scarlett Abraham Clarke, and I am the head of Diversity & Inclusion for Bright Horizons. I am also a mother of a five and a two-year-old and the two that I've learned to call my new co-workers in this day and age. I'm excited and also welcome always the opportunity to have a candid discussion like the one we're getting ready to have. The recent senseless deaths of black men and women have left many of us feeling a lot of emotions. We range from being angry to being extremely sad, confused, and quite frankly, flat-out overwhelmed. Many of us are carrying these emotions with us into the workplace.

So creating a safe space for open discussions for us in particular at Bright Horizons has proven to be a way to support those that are sharing their feelings and experiences with us and have had a huge support or have been rather a huge source of education for many of us. And equally important, as an organization, we have taken this as an opportunity to create a firm stance on anti-racism and committing both internally and externally to be change agents. It is important for us that we offer a similar form, similar resources to our families. I am thrilled today to be joined by three key members of our education and development team here at Bright Horizons, Rachel Robertson, our vice president of learning and development. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel: Thank you, Scarlett.

Scarlett: We have Lisa Grant, director of research and development at Bright Horizons. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa: Thank you, Scarlett.

Scarlett: Thank you. And we will also be hearing from our senior manager of education and curriculum, Debbie Hoppy. Hi, Debbie.

Debbie: Hi, Scarlett.

Scarlett: Thank you all so much for being here with us. Our hope today is to provide you all with a candid, thought-provoking discussion about raising an anti-racist child. Many of you have submitted honest and thoughtful questions that we're actually using to craft and shape our discussion. We will use our shared expertise. We'll share some personal experiences, and like you, we'll commit to continually growing and learning as a result of these conversations. There will be many perspectives that will be shared today. So I encourage us to respect those perspectives. I encourage us to learn from one another and put those learnings into practice. Most importantly, I think it's important to set the expectation that we have to expect and accept that they will not be closer to this conversation. We have an hour-long, and we know that we could talk about this for so much longer. We hope that this is actually the beginning of an ongoing or continued conversation for many of us.

I do wanna take the time to just point something out that we wanna keep in mind. So for the purpose of this conversation and given the climate that we're in right now, our focus will be specifically on the black race, but we know that other races and ethnic groups experience all forms of racism. That said, let's start with this title because I know that it's a charged term, this thought or idea rather of anti-racism versus just not being racist. What exactly do we mean with that? Well, I've had a few conversations around this internally with our workforce, and to put it very simply, anti-racism is an active, so think about the verb as an active and conscious effort to work against multi-dimensional aspects of racism. We need to act consciously to dismantle versus being a non-racist, which signifies neutrality and there's no action behind it. Again, we know that these are supercharged terms, and we also know that clarity and context matter, especially when we have the responsibility, some of us of, parenthood. So we know that you're here to talk about how do you talk to your children about these issues. So let's jump right in here.

As a mom of a five-year-old, I've had to have, you know, pretty candid conversations over the past few weeks with regards to racism, and I reflected a lot on these questions, you know, personally for my child. And, Rachel, I like to kick it off, and maybe have you kick us off with what do children know about race and racism? And, in fact, you know, Joshua's world is so diverse already both with our internal family, our extended family, and our wonderful group of friends, but I also had the question in starting that conversation with him of what would he know about this.

Rachel: It's a great question, Scarlett, and I'm gonna start us out at the very beginning and thinking about child development in general. There's a lot of typical child development that influences how children then think about race and racism, and I come to this conversation as a professional educator with that expertise but also as a mom myself having raised two girls, one in their teens and one in her 20s and still having these discussions. So way back at the beginning, at the very start, children's job is to learn about literally everything, and this includes themselves. This includes learning about their own identity, how they're separate from others, relationships, how to interact in those relationships, it's a lifelong thing that we're working on, and they're wondering where do they fit into this world. That's a pretty big job to figure all of that out. Within that work, there are some developmental tasks that are particularly relevant to this conversation. I wanna give us all that awareness of how children are just developing and what they're aware of and what concepts they can understand that will help frame the rest of this discussion.

First, this idea of self-skills and developing self-skills, and that really starts at that self-awareness, "I'm a person. I'm separate enough." Then that goes into this idea of self-concept, identity, and self-confidence. This is a primary task of [inaudible 00:06:22], and it drives children to be very curious about themselves and the people they encounter. So, anyone with young children, so Scarlett, with your young children, you've heard lots of me, mine, lots of those words. They're figuring out. This is new to them that they're their own person, that they can have likes and dislikes, that they can own things, that they can be in charge of things, they can have opinions. They're fairly concrete things [inaudible 00:06:50], and it takes them a while to understand other people have different feelings.

It is important to recognize that as early as two years old, children start to assign good and bad traits [inaudible 00:07:05]. They start to internalize that. They're naturally inclined to assessing traits they're most familiar with. So sometimes and, of course, this happens sometimes in the most difficult moment, sometimes children will say or do things that are either racist sounding statement or a bias sounding statement, and they're trying to work that out. They're trying to work out identity. So they might assign good with their color of skin. That's part of a natural process. This is most noticeable in the preschool age or kindergarten because they are developing those cognitive skills to differentiate between what's real, what's not real, how something can be true in one case but not in another case. This is the time children are gonna make the most difficult comments. And there's a little nature and nurture here working together that is a natural thing to happen, but if nothing disrupts this thinking, it can persist and become more concrete in how they think about themselves and how they think about others, the real opportunity here for parents to interject and guide some of that thinking.

Really, related to this, kids are figuring out their emotions. They're feeling them intensely, and this is, again, another lifelong thing that we are challenged with. They're first focused on their needs, but as they develop their self-image and their cognitive skills, they're feeling more complex emotions, things like shame, things like guilt, but positively, they can also feel self-worth and pride. So much opportunity in these early years to influence that budding self-concept to focus on characteristics, not just superficial characteristics, but these similarities people have, their strengths, their talents, who people are. Then this builds into that idea that at about five years old, something happens called theory of mind, and this is when children start to understand...so your son is perfect for this, Scarlett, Josh is starting to understand that even though you were in the same situation, you might have different thoughts and feelings about that very same situation. Once they start to understand this, this is the bridge for them being able to take on perspective and learning about empathy.

Then the last thing I wanna share about development that matters a lot here is two things related to cognitive development. One is we need children, and it's a natural tendency for them, we need them to do this, is to categorize and sort everything. Things have to make sense, and we ask them to do this all the time. We ask them to tell us...tell me what the red shapes are. Where are the circular items? We're asking them to do that. So they start to do this also with people. It's natural. There are two characteristics that influence children's thinking, and honestly, I see this a lot with adults too. There's a concept called overextension where children apply knowledge more broadly than they should. So, for example, they have a cat at home. So then they think everything with four legs and fur is a cat, or there's something called under extension where they don't...they can't take knowledge they haven't applied to a different situation. So, maybe their grandfather has white hair. So then they think you can only be a grandfather if you have white hair. So these things are very normal again, and children will point them out and talk about them. And it's a prime opportunity to talk to children about differences and similarities, and it helps them extend their knowledge appropriately.

And then the last thing and I know that this happens a lot in families and we're all as parents familiar with this is children are very focused on what's fair and fair and that idea of equality, "Did I get what's coming to me?" is so important to them. It can cause a lot of squabbles in a household. But what I think is really fascinating about this is that children don't just expect fair for themselves, they expect fair of the world. They are asking for this universally. In research around the world, children will stand up for others sometimes better than adults when they think there's someone who isn't getting their fair shake, their fair turn. So they care about it for themselves, but they also care about this a lot with others. So what a prime opportunity to teach lessons about equity and justice [inaudible 00:11:35].

Scarlett: So true, Rachel, and that the whole concept of that's not fair I hear constantly at my household mainly by my five-year-old and now my two-year-old who copies everything that her brother does. But even as I talked to Josh around the whole, "some people are treated differently and here's why," there was definitely that puzzleness around him where he talked about, "That doesn't feel fair. That doesn't seem right." So to see him shifting from, "It's not fair that my mom gets more ice cream," and now using that to apply it to this situation has been really interesting to watch as well. So definitely, he's transitioning that logic to this current situation as well that this just doesn't feel right.

Rachel: Yeah. And it's built in so all children care about it. So it's such an opportunity and it's the right language to use, that for the adult language to be thinking about equity and justice as well, so a perfect opportunity to extend those conversations. I do wanna mention the function of play here, and I think your children are doing it and everybody's children are probably doing this is play is a really important developmental tool, but it's also very helpful when we're thinking about helping our children developing the skills of what it takes to be anti-racist. So play is a really important function of early childhood, and it's not a frivolous extra. It is one of the best ways children learn and make sense of their world. They're using it right now. They use it all the time. There's no coincidence the reason children like to play kitchen or office or community helpers is because they're making sense of their world. They're making sense of what they see.

Through play, they're learning a lot of great things like working together and negotiating and cooperating, working with others who have a different idea or differences. So play is a universally valuable experience, but right now sometimes children's play can feel disconcerting if they are including things like any kind of representation of something that might feel like it might get violent, a lot of times children play like war. But right now they might be playing good guys, bad guys more. They might even be playing protest. So I'll just say most importantly that that's normal and that's a good thing for children to be doing. They're working through what they see. It's also an opportunity for adults.

So if you see that kind of play, it's really important not to say, "Stop," or, "You shouldn't be saying those words," or any of those things because they're...if they're feeling shame, they will internalize that. They will be quiet. They'll just hide it rather than not think it. It doesn't stop it. But what you can do as an adult is thinking about how to get them thinking and how to extend what's happening. So you could say things like, "I notice you're playing good guys and bad guys. What does it mean to be a bad guy? What makes a person a good guy?" You get them thinking and engaged in the problem and then that becomes part of their play. A lot of times they start solving it themselves and start changing their thinking, or if you see something like some children being excluded, you could say, "I'm noticing that some children are not playing in this group, and I know it's most joyful when everybody plays together. What could we do differently about it?" So you're not assigning blame, you're not projecting on them, but you're getting them to use play to evolve and change their thinking.

Scarlett: Yeah. Such a great point and I've definitely seen an increase of bad guy, good guy playing at our household as well. So, it's important to hear some of that concept behind it and how we might wanna be addressing it. Thank you so much, Rachel. As we shift a little bit into, "How do we even start the conversations?" You know, for black people having these discussions around race become a part of how we raise our children in general, preparing them for the day that they will be treated differently. It's not a if question for us but it's a when this happens. So we're preparing them, but we're also coming up with actual action plans for when they perhaps become in contact with law enforcement from what to say, what to do, where do you put your hands. So, for those looking to start these discussions around these topics, Lisa, maybe we can turn it over to you for this question. How would we recommend we start a conversation particularly when we haven't talked about these issues before?

Lisa: Sure. Thank you, Scarlett. You know, as you touched on, a conversation with a black family living in urban America is going to look very different than maybe a white family living in rural America, and it should, and that's perfectly okay. You really need to let your values guide this work with your child. You know, think about things like how you were raised, maybe your faith, what you truly wanna instill in your child, also keeping in mind that although you might just now be starting a conversation with your child, the messages that we may have been sending through our actions and behaviors or things that we say in front of our children are extraordinarily impactful and may have already sparked our children's thinking about these issues.

It's also important to recognize that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to these conversations, and they really should be relevant to your child in the context in which you live. You know, for me, I'm a mom of three children. My two oldest, they're teenage girls now, and when they were really young, preschool, probably three years old, maybe even younger, I had conversations with them about their skin color, their hair texture, and how beautiful that I thought it was. And we also had conversations about the idea that not everyone would treat them fairly because of those things. I was really intentional about these conversations because despite growing up in a multicultural family, my family took more of a colorblind approach to raising me, and that didn't really prepare me for the racism that I would face once, you know, I was a young child navigating school and life.

Fast-forward to now, I have also a five-year-old son, and although we've had similar conversations, in recent weeks, he's actually shared with me a little bit about his fear of his own personal safety because of the fact that he has brown skin. And even as an educator and spending, you know, my career in this work, it really caught me off guard in that moment to have that conversation. I don't feel like I was fully prepared. I did let him share his feelings and was supportive to him in that moment, and, you know, after a couple of minutes, he was done having the conversation. But I know it will be a topic that we revisit for sure. And it goes to show you that even in the context of the same family, that these conversations might look different for each person and that we don't always get to control the if and the when of these conversations because, oftentimes, our children will start them for us. I know my colleague Debbie Hoppy, and I have talked a little bit about this, and her experience has been a little bit different. So I don't know if you wanna share a little bit, Debbie, about your experience with this.

Debbie: Sure. Thank you, Lisa. Yes. As you say, we never know when our children are going to bring up a question to us, and even though our background is in education, we also are sometimes caught off guard and have to pause and think about how we want to approach it. So that is a completely normal feeling, and don't be afraid of that and embrace that and know that that is part of having these conversations. I know my children's experiences are going to be different than those of Lisa's children or Scarlett's children. I have children who are teenagers now, and every child has their own experience. And I know that my children are going to be witness to racist comments, they're going to be in places where racist actions are taking place, and they're going to be in situations where people speak disparagingly about other races. And even some often, these conversations might happen where the children who are being maligned are not even present. I really wish this weren't so, but it happens and it is a reality. And we know that racist terminology is tossed around casually sadly. And so I really need my teens to act and to be an upstander and to actively counter the racism when they witness it or when it is happening around them, and that can be hard.

One strategy that I found helpful to start this conversation with my children is to share stories in my past of when I have encountered similar situations and how I responded or even now looking back as an adult how I wish I had responded in those moments and what I might do differently now. And I think just, you know, discussing with them what makes it challenging to speak up and practice some concrete scenarios and help them think about some language that they can quickly call on when they encounter a situation in which they need to speak up. And we know that can be hard for teens. So sometimes something as simple as providing them the language to say, "Hey, that's not cool. I don't agree with you. Do you even know what that means?" or, "Please don't talk like that around me and you shouldn't be using those words to describe people." You know, all of that has the power to change the trajectory of the conversation, and it empowers the teens to even let others know that they're off track if no one else has even given them that message. Sometimes that is the case, and children say things they don't even know what they're saying. So, providing some discussion at home and scenario discussion can be very helpful.

Scarlett: Yeah. Thank you so much, Debbie, and good lessons, not only for our children, but, you know, tough lessons even or tough scenarios even for adults. You know, I think in our conversations inside the workforce when we talked about being an upstander and not being a bystander, it can be challenging for some individuals to understand, "What can I say and do I say it right there in the moment when things are happening? And what happens if I don't say it?" So, it does become this need to have these ongoing conversations and planning for what would be those words that you would be using. But let's talk a little bit more about, you know, what do you say to your children about this in particular? I mean, I can tell you that with Josh, I've taken all of these factors into consideration, and when I began talking to him, I have to admit, he had some tough questions for me that made me have to think carefully about what exactly would I say in a way that would actually make sense to him? So, you know, again, we're driven by the fact that I have to talk to my children about this. It's non-negotiable. But what advice, Lisa, would we have and Debbie, of course, with what exactly can we say?


Lisa: Sure. So, you know, kind of more broadly, you know, again, some of us are confronted with having these conversations, but many people are not. Rachel mentioned this earlier when she was talking about child development, but children are really eager to learn and to understand the world around them. So, it's really important to follow your child's lead in those conversations. So, when they ask questions about someone who might look different, for example, don't shy away from it or allow your child or yourself to be embarrassed because that's perfectly normal. It's okay to not have all of the answers, but it's certainly a great place to start seeking those answers and engaging your children and finding those answers with them, although it can be really easy or feel easier to avoid conversations because they are hard. Let's say that these conversations aren't easy, or we wanna just simply focus on acknowledging differences and just being kind to everybody. That's really just the first step. So, we know that for black and brown families that these conversations have to happen in order to equip our children for what they might experience in the world, but we also know that it can't just be families of color that are having these conversations. If we really wanna start moving the needle on issues of racism, all families need to have their own relevant conversations and acknowledge unfairness and injustice.


Scarlett: Thank you, Lisa. So true, so even to make it even more concrete in terms of what things we could put in practice, Debbie, I'd love for you to share your thoughts actually on this.

Debbie: Sure. As Lisa said, it's so important to start with discussions about race because children need language, and by having that foundation for language, that only starts the conversation. Also, as you mentioned, there's a lot of talk amongst young children about the concept of equity or fairness, and young children are very tuned in to this. And one way we see that is children often come up to us with stories of, I'll use air quotes, unfairness. They'll report things such as Sasha called Mila a name or Jackson pushed over Harper's blocks. They're reaching out to us, and they're telling us something, but sometimes as adults, we respond quickly, and we sort of shut them down and discourage them from speaking up. We tell them not to tattle, and we send them back, "Oh, go back. You need to solve that problem without me." But really, we can take this opportunity to equip our children with the skill set to help them learn how to speak up, to help them...give them words to articulate what is really happening, and this can happen in, you know, some very simple ways.

One is just reflecting on what your child has told them...has told you. You can say something such as, "I can see that you are very concerned about what just happened," and that will often encourage your child to speak some more. And then taking the next step to provide some guiding questions to inspire positive action, "Can you tell me a little bit more about how your friends are responding to this? What would you like to do? How can I help you? And what do you think we can do to handle this now?" These are all some very good strategies for some very young children. You know, as children grow, our opportunities for discussion really broaden immensely, and it's really our role as parents to find discussion points, whether that be from real life, from books, or as our children are older and do see things on the news, what can we do to have ongoing discussion? And it's not just a one and done discussion. Ongoing, small and repeated conversations, these are the things that will help to hold.

And so as children become older, conversations can be more specific. We know as we were talking about before, teens see all sorts of situations, and we need to help them recognize language that is racist language. And sometimes this language is so obvious, and other times, it's much less obvious, and it takes the form of microaggressions. So, as our children are older, and this is something I do with my teens, I might say to them, "Do you actually know what that word means? Let me explain to you why this is so derogatory and why when your friends or when your classmates use this language, you need to speak up against it." And, you know, sometimes this conversation is driven by things that they come home and share with you, but if that's not happening, then you need to initiate the conversation so that they can begin to recognize the many shades of racism that happen and also start to understand the history of racism and how it impacts our world today.

Scarlett: Yeah. Thank you, Debbie. And, again, just opening that dialogue and allowing for the questions, and I think important to point out, I love this last bullet on there about, "Let's find out together." So to me, it's, you know, we don't have to have all of the answers, and we just won't. If we did, conversations will be very differently. But just being able to say, "I don't know." And there's a lesson there, right, even for our children that that's okay, but committing to finding out together I think it's really powerful. Thank you so much, Debbie. Lisa, you mentioned earlier, which I picked up on, just growing in a household that you were taught not to see color. So we actually did get some questions from folks around this idea of colorblind or Nazi in color, and typically, we know that that's said with the intent of being inclusive. But what is the right approach here?

Lisa: Sure. I definitely agree, Scarlett. I think a lot of people are well-intentioned when they think they're teaching not to see color or that all children or all people are the same. That's how I was raised, and I know a lot of other people were raised that way as well. And it really wasn't that effective for me and may not be very effective for others as well. You know, it's important to acknowledge, and Rachel mentioned this earlier, that we do see color, and we do see difference. And by not, you know, acknowledging that we see color and difference, we're really not validating the experience that many have. Really, you know, use this opportunity to seek ways to learn about those differences alongside your child. For those children who are too young to start having conversations, exposure to books and toys and materials that represent diversity is a really good place to start. We'll talk a little bit more about that later.

Take opportunities to read about another's background or culture or celebrations with your child. You might, you know, visit museums or attend community events or even events in other communities that might be different than your own. You might try new foods or visit new places with your child. I think all of those things are great places to start. Oftentimes, you'll find that there are nuggets of similarity or shared values in what you learn about others. Talk about those with your child. You know, compare what's different but also what's similar. Might you have learned something that you might incorporate into your own family's practices or traditions. And I always like to say, you know, when we expose children to things, we learn, and when we learn, we understand, and when we understand, we embrace. So really if our end goal is to be able to embrace each other and treat everyone equitably, then really the first place to start is just by exposing our children to various and diverse experiences and opportunities.

Scarlett: So true. You know, as a D&I professional when I heard this thought of, "I don't see color," I go back to just some of our mission within Bright Horizons around, you know, bringing your whole self to work and for us to be able to see and support the whole person. So, you know, for those that are racially diverse, I want people to see what I look like, and I want that for my children as well. So even just from a respectful and seeing and acknowledging perspective, we know that that concept may not always work. You know, as a D&I professional, I'm also encouraging our workforce to get comfortable with what could be uncomfortable. In fact, I've challenged us to say that if we're having a conversation around differences and inclusion and we're not uncomfortable, then we're probably not having that conversation the way that we need to have it. But I have to admit that as a parent, you know, having these conversations with Joshua obviously I have a different set of emotions that are going into having this conversation, so specific about race. So at times, it has been super challenging for me to follow my own advice of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. So, for parents asking the question around, you know, if my child is asking questions that make me uncomfortable or are uncomfortable, what are some of the advice that we would have for them?

Lisa: Yeah. I think you bring up a good point, Scarlett. I think that the same rule applies for when we're talking with our children about these issues as it does with our workforce. If it's not uncomfortable, we may not really be doing enough work when we get those tough questions to really move the needle on these issues. And so as I mentioned earlier, it's perfectly okay to not have all of the answers. I don't know anybody that does. You know, sometimes these conversations come up because of an incident or exposure or a casual encounter that your child or you might have. Let your child share their thoughts naturally and ask them open-ended questions, and we talked, you know, a little bit about this earlier, but, you know, ask them, "What do you think about that, or how does that make you feel, or how do you think that makes other people feel?" They really need that time and that ability to process, to learn perspective-taking and to build empathy, and this is the perfect opportunity to teach some of those skills. Now, I have an incident that happened to me and my son recently that was a little bit of an incident where I felt uncomfortable but really needed to approach the situation head on.

We actually just moved to a new city, and within the first couple of days of being here, we were navigating through our town and happened to drive right on to a protest that was happening here in our community. And it was a peaceful protest, but, of course, being a curious five-year-old, my son had lots of questions about, you know, "Why are all of these people out here, and why do they have signs? And what's happening, and why are they chanting?" And so I wasn't necessarily prepared to have that conversation with him in that moment, but, you know, I was frank with him and honest, of course, using five-year-old terminology to say, you know, that when a community doesn't necessarily agree with something that's happening, they have the right to speak up and share their opinions with those who are in positions of power and that it's okay to do so peacefully, and you know, they are stating their case, you know, for other community members to see. And he very casually was like, "Okay," and we moved on, and that ended the conversation. And, you know, thankfully, I recovered having been caught off guard, but, you know, that's going to happen when we're having these tough conversations with our kids. With that, it's also really important that although we can't always control 100% of the things that our children are exposed to, we do have control over most of what they have exposure to, especially at a really young age. And so it's important to really be responsive to that so that we're able to somewhat control when we have some of these tough conversations if we can, especially with everything that's in the news media currently.

Scarlett: Yeah. Absolutely. Debbie, anything to add there?

Debbie: Yeah. So, you know, the question about exposure to news and media, for the very youngest of children, we really want to limit their exposure to the news and to media. They can't make sense of it. We know that the media focus is 24/7, and that makes us as adults even feel stress and anxiety. And young children can't differentiate from what's happening in their most immediate world and house to what's happening in the larger world around them, and three and four-year-olds don't have that capability to be exposed to the news over and over again. But we also know that as children get older, they have more access to news. They have more access to social media. What they see becomes out of our immediate control, right? Even if our older children don't have phones, their friends have phones, and they are seeing all sorts of things. So, it's really up to us to stay one step ahead and bring up relevant discussion points so that children can make sense of things as they are encountering it and also to encourage our children to bring up things that they are witnessing or seeing on the news that they don't understand or doesn't make sense to them or have further questions about.

Scarlett: Yeah. Thank you so much. I mean, so true. So much of the conversations that we've had to have here at home have been prompted by either something that, you know, Josh gets to watch on TV because there's an emergency, you know, broadcast that has to interrupt whatever he is watching. And, Lisa, like you, certainly I've been put in situations where I'm not prepared necessarily to have a discussion or may have the answers, but again, I go back to pausing, and if I don't know, being comfortable to say that I don't know and then certainly, you know, circling back. I mean, obviously, we wanna circle back, and we don't want to let those questions go unanswered, but I think going in this understanding that we may get caught off guard with some of these questions is important as well. So thank you both so much for that context. There's been so much conversations around just the amplified racial tension that we're seeing in the U.S., and, you know, a lot of meaningful action is what people are looking to follow a lot of these dialogues certainly is something that we are being asked by our workforce and being held accountable to really follow up with some meaningful actions. So, as we think about families that are looking to actively contribute to change, Rachel, maybe we'll get your thoughts here. But what can actively, families actively do to be an anti-racist family?

Rachel: It's a great question. I think it brings us back to the beginning where I was sharing a lot about child development and play and using these natural opportunities and natural interests of children and teach through those moments. We don't have to nor would we recommend teaching something like anti-racism like you would think of a typical like math lesson. You're not sitting your children down and telling them something and then it's over. It's about what you're doing all the time and how you're responding to things, how you're helping them be exposed to things, and what's in their world.

One of the concepts that we use a lot at Bright Horizons I think can be very applicable to families is this idea of windows and mirrors, and people really get what that means. So we have this idea of mirrors that's a reflection of yourself. So that's a lot of what our worlds are, especially when we're raising children, we reflect our culture, our traditions, what matters to our family. And that's really important. We don't want children to feel like who they are isn't important. We want them to be proud of that value who they are on the inside, not just thinking about external traits. But then we do want them to look through the window of the outside world, and we want that world to be very diverse. We want it to be authentic. Some people are asking questions about if they don't have an awareness of other cultures, that they're not exposed to it, how to make it authentic.

One of the experiences or one of the suggestions, and, again, this is something that we do all the time, so we've been doing it for years in our programs, is taking a look at our books and our toys. So often, children or families choose toys and books that represent themselves or feel familiar to themselves, maybe childhood favorites. And this is a time right now as adults, we have to think critically about that because some of our childhood favorites are not very diverse, or they may actually have some racism or bias built into them. So we really wanna think about not just the words, but the illustration. There is a large disparity in the amount of diverse characters in children's books and diverse authors. So pay attention to that.

If you're actively seeking books that have diverse characters, that will make a difference, and you don't have to point them out or say, "Oh, let's read this book because it has diverse characters," the best thing to do is just expose them to diverse characters and difference in themselves, whatever color skin they might have, just doing regular everyday things. A great example is a snowy day, "That's just a child, the black child playing in the snow. It's a wonderful, beautiful story." Stories about the history of Martin Luther King or things like that are also valuable, but that can't be the only kind of diverse book you expose your children to because then they are only thinking it's about this historical reference, and they don't get the broader context.

And think about this the same with toys. Lisa was mentioning this earlier about the kinds of play books they have or what do their dolls look like. Is there diversity in dolls or the little play figurines they have or even the types of houses? There's all types of diversity that can be found in toys, and as a parent, you have to intentionally and critically think about those things and seek out variety there. The other thing that parents can do especially when you're feeling like you're living in a fairly homogeneous world is intentionally expanding that. So, this will take a little bit of thinking on your part, but it can and should be very genuine. It's what are the things that are interesting to you? Do you like to go to museums? Do you like to join festivals and celebrations? Do you like to try different restaurants? Do those things in places that are diverse or places you can learn about or be around people that are different. You know, natural relationships will evolve from engaging yourself and your family in those types of experiences.

And pay attention to the holidays you celebrate and then you join in on. A good example of this is something like Cinco de Mayo. There's a lot of stereotype in how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated. Think critically about that. Talk to your child about that. If you are in that celebration, make sure that you're not taking away stereotypical or bias thinking about that. Bring it up. Don't just hope your child notices that, but talk about that and bring that up and make some different choices in your family. I know this is a place where it feels somewhat uncomfortable, but this is a good place to challenge yourself and model for your children is asking others that you know how they want to be celebrated. What are their celebrations or cultures or family traditions? How do they like to be referred to? How do they identify? Those questions are hard for us to ask, but they're very important to do so. They make people respectful of each individual, and it's good for our children to see us modeling that.

I always want to talk about...to anything I'm talking to parents about with child development I talk about modeling your own thinking, and the best way to do this is to narrate your thinking. So you might kind of feel silly doing this, but it helps children see how you are thinking critically about something and how you're learning because we don't...I think we've said this a few times, we don't have the right answers, right? We don't have all of the right answers and we're all growing, and that's what we want. So you could say, "Oh, last year, we did this, but now that I'm thinking about it I'm wondering or I'm thinking. Well, what do you think," or, "I don't know how to answer this question or I'm feeling uncomfortable right now." And as they hear you going through that, they'll be more comfortable being in those situations themselves. And I'll bring us all the way back to play here.

We can do a couple things with play is if you are, like Debbie was talking about this earlier with older children, but you can do it with younger children too is interject some role-playing in play. So, say something that they might be confronted with and have them work it through, or they get to say it to you and have that back and forth, so they're ready for those scenarios and ask them about perspectives. You can do this with books too. What do you think that character is feeling? How does it feel to be in the situation? That role-playing can be very helpful as they're preparing for what they may encounter personally, whether it's about themselves or like Debbie was saying too, standing up to something that they know is wrong, but they don't have the words for. And use that sense of fairness and justice to take action. If that's the place you're ready for, if that's a place you can get a little uncomfortable to take yourself to that place, family is working together whether it's just being an ally for a friend or a family member, or you want to engage in some sort of social justice as a family, involve your children in that because they are learning from you and they are learning that their voice matters, which is one of the most important things you can do for them.

Scarlett: Absolutely. Thank you so much. There's so much that you shared that resonated with me particularly around walking that walks. So sometimes just what our world looks like can send bigger messages than anything that might come out of our mouths. So, you know, really that exposure, really how we model ourselves, how we're managing some of these situations can be so key, you know, to really helping our children in general but particularly around a subject like this. Thank you so much, Rachel. Lots of questions coming in, which is great. I think one of the things that we've touched on during our time together has been what does the world look like that we're exposing our children to and how that can either help or hinder some of what we're trying to discuss here. And maybe, Lisa, I'll get your thoughts on this if it's okay. But one of the things that has come up is we're trying as parents perhaps to have these conversations and provide all these learnings for our children, but what happens if there are members of our families that are often or at times making comments that are flat-out racist or off-the-cuff and in some ways could impact what we're trying to accomplish with our own children?


Lisa: And that's a great question. As I mentioned before, you know, we can control for much of what our children are exposed to, but, you know, if you're in a family that has, you know, different opinions, you can't necessarily control for 100% of what they're exposed to. And so what I would say in this circumstance is, you know, start at the beginning where we talked about, you know, what are your values and let that really guide your work with your children. If you truly value respect and anti-racism and diversity, then let that guide in your next steps in how you handle that situation. I would say secondly, you know, think about impact and any other adverse environmental factor that your child might be exposed to. Is this something that you want your child to be exposed to? If the answer is no, then I would say definitely feel empowered and mobilized to act on that.

Again, it's not simply enough to stay neutral. It's really that activism aspect that really comes into play with really making change in this area. And then lastly, I would say, you know, again, these conversations can be really uncomfortable, and that's normal. And so it could be really challenging to think about having a conversation with your parents or your in-laws about something that they have said or exposed your children to, but there's always opportunities to learn and grow as people no matter what stage of life we're in. And so I encourage you to have those tough conversations with your family members or grandparents about why you value what you value and why it's important for your children not to be exposed to that, and hopefully, it will be a learning process for everyone involved.

Scarlett: Yeah. Thank you, Lisa, definitely tough...

Debbie: [crosstalk 00:49:01].

Scarlett: Yeah. Please do.

Debbie: I think we also we're talking about giving children language and modeling scenarios, and we do know that this happens within families and taking the moment to tell your child perhaps, you know, a comment was made and then you're going back home with your children and discussing that with your children and saying, you know, "That feels very uncomfortable to me. Next time we are with, you know, Granny, I'm going to talk to her about that, and I don't wanna let that go. This is what I'm going to say. Do you have any suggestions?" Because we're all learning and we all have a role in making this world a better place. So, even when you're unsure what to do, have that conversation with your child and let them know you're not letting it go by.

Scarlett: Yeah. It's such a great point, not letting it go by, but also making them part of that solution and helping them again develop even more problem-solving skills. So it's a great point, Debbie. I think there's still some questions around what is the appropriate age to have or start to have some of these conversations and do you focus on historical or history in general. Do you focus on the current events? I'm wondering maybe, Rachel, you might wanna take this on, but, you know, again, from an age perspective, what feels the most appropriate.

Rachel: Yeah. This is a tricky question admittedly because it does depend on the child. So there is some developmental aspects that are important to think about, but it is...every child is different. I think one thing I'll start by saying is it's important to have...you don't need to have the conversation or a full conversation to start to talk about race and racism. So some of the suggestions I was talking about earlier, just pointing it out in play or, "Look at this doll. Look at her beautiful skin. Let's buy this doll today," whatever it might be. That doesn't need the sit-down conversation. Those things can start right away as young as your children are. You know, when you have those conversations with your children, start including them in a diverse world and having diversity around them.

For any kind of formal conversations, Lisa was saying this earlier, sometimes they bring it to you, and just like other difficult conversations as a parent, they're telling you it's time for that conversation. One of the things that I would always advise, and I know we all would is to ask your child what they know or what they're thinking in response to their questions, so you get a sense of where they are. They might be wondering something fairly superficial or fairly basic, and not quite ready for you to get into all the details. But going back and forth with them a little bit will help you know what they're ready for and what to do next. And we've said this a couple times, but it's okay to say, "I wanna think about your questions, or can we talk about this at bedtime?" You don't have to be in the moment. You don't have to get caught off guard, so you can process that. And that's a good thing to share with children that you need to think about it, that you will come back to it, and you're really excited for that conversation.

And then if you want to approach it, if you're ready to approach it, that's something you could do again similar to other conversations where you say, "I have something to talk to you about. It's kind of important, and this is how I'm thinking about it. This is what it is. This is what bothers me about it. What do you think about it?" Try to keep the emotion out of it and have it be a thoughtful, neutral conversation. And children around that age, four and five, are primed for this because they can start to understand perspective. They can start to build empathy, and they're right in the middle of building their own identity and thinking about how the world works and how others work. It is a good time depending on the child, but it's about the time that you can start having more deeper conversations.

Scarlett: Thank you, Rachel. And again, there's no cookie-cutter approach here, right? So it's really thinking about your child's age, to think about how those questions are being asked. Lisa, you touched on this earlier, which is interesting because I've had a similar experience with Josh where we'll start talking about this, and he'll have questions, and then all of a sudden, he just doesn't wanna talk about it anymore. Any thoughts around that?

Lisa: Sure. You know, so piggybacking on what Rachel said earlier, you know, if you are thinking about this topic in relation to your child and you're wanting to broach a conversation, it doesn't need to be so formal or, you know, something to check off a list or contrived at all. It's really about incorporating your experiences in your everyday life with your child and exposing them to diverse experiences and people and whatnot. It may not necessarily be a specific sit down conversation, and that's okay. Likewise, you may be confronted with the issue where you're having a conversation with your child, maybe they bring up something that's happened or they've observed something happen alongside with you, and you start to have that conversation, and they don't wanna engage. And I think that that's perfectly okay, or maybe they're just done talking, and that's okay. I really think it's important to let your child take the lead in these conversations. You can certainly ask open-ended questions if you feel like there's something that you need to get at. Maybe your child was a victim of racism and you're wanting to help them through that, and so certainly asking open-ended questions can help. But I certainly wouldn't push the issue. Oftentimes children will circle back in their own time and revisit when they're ready, and so I think it's important to allow your child the time and the space to do that.

Scarlett: Yeah. Context matters for sure. Yes, Rachel.

Rachel: Yeah. Sorry. I just wanted to bring up again, I think Lisa is saying this beautifully, is that idea of narrating your own critical thinking. That can be a way to engage children in the conversation because you should have it. You shouldn't not have it. And as children get a little older in their flexible thinking and they can see the world more diversely as they get kind of 7/8 diverse thinking, not just diversity in skin color, but just diversity in general, you want to have these conversations, so ideas don't get fixed in their subconscious, but you can, if they're not interested in it or they don't wanna be a part of it, you can use that narrating your own thinking, "This bothers me. I saw this. I'm troubled by this. I'm thinking about... It's important to me." Just using those phrases as you're making dinner, or you're sitting down together, you're in the car together, then it normalizes the conversation and it doesn't feel like such a big event.

Scarlett: Yeah. Definitely. Thank you so much, Rachel. So, some questions also have come up around resources specifically books. So, we'll have some resources that people can certainly download, resources that we've used here at Bright Horizons to really help us guide our conversations through these scenarios. So hopefully, you would find them helpful as well. Thank you all so much for this. I think that it has been a really good discussion and a lot of the takeaways or one of them at least that I'm taking with me is it's important to have the conversations. It's important not to shy away from the discussions. If you don't have the answers, certainly say you don't have the answers and commit to following up with your child those open-ended questions. Context matters and making sure that you understand where your child might be developmentally to really help you also with what to say, how to say it, when to say it.

But I think that the key thing here for both how we're parenting our children, how we're choosing to parent our children but then also for us as adults is really making sure that we continue to have these conversations and that those conversations have an intent to act, you know, simultaneously with them as well. So, I thank this panel so much for sharing your expertise with all of us. Obviously, we could continue to have this conversation ongoing, and like I said, I can't say it enough, I encourage that we do continue. So for those of you who have joined, thank you again for taking the time. There will be resources that you would be able to download, and the recording of this will be shared with you at some point this week. So thank you and continue the conversation.

Rachel: Thank you, everyone.

Debbie: Thanks, Scarlett.

Lisa: Thank you.

About the Author

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

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