How to Talk to Kids About the Skin They're In
Squinting her eyes and leaning in close to the side of my face, she took her little pointer finger and jabbed it into my cheekbone. "Ouch!" "Mama, what's that?" She now started to scratch the skin on my cheek. "You should wash your face." "Oh. It's probably a mole. Or a freckle..." Or a scar...or age spot. It's one of those things I usually cover with concealer before the sun rises. Before she--or anyone else--sees it. "I don't have those dots on my face," She says, climbing on top of the toilet seat to peer into the medicine cabinet mirror and assure herself that what she was saying was true. Kids have a way of noticing--and pointing out--the differences between their skin and someone else's. When my son was in pre-k someone told him his skin looked like brown sugar. "So you're sweet?" I asked him what this someone's skin looked like... "Hmmmm...kind of like a peach milkshake.," he answered. "Sweet too!" Where adults sometimes shy away from describing skin color (aside from black, white, and brown), many resources are now embracing how kids comfortably conversate about the very subtle differences in race. If you haven't heard the Color of Me song from Sesame Street, where Segi sings "my skin it is a dark, dark brown...it's like a chestnut horse...horses are so beautiful...you know its true of course," click HERE and get ready to jam out!. There's also The Color of Us by Karen Katz, the wonderful author/illustrator of kids books like Can You Say Peace. In it, seven-year-old Lena wants to paint a picture of herself, using brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades (think: cinnamon, honey, and pizza crust).
So, here's the thing: There’s evidence that parents who make race okay to talk about help their kids develop more positive attitudes about people of other races. But we all know, that's easier said than done. Exposure through cultural events is a start, but going to these events just because might defeat the purpose. Explain to your kids why your family is going and why you'll be surrounded by people with different skin colors. Another idea is to not be hesitant about identifying and naming race as part of your description of the world. Red truck, blue bear, honey brown girl... This makes skin color talk natural and ultimately a non-issue. Kids eventually want to know if the red truck goes fast, if the blue bear talks, and what lies in the heart of the honey brown girl.