Talking about race is difficult, especially for adults. This is why it's so important to start these conversations while your children are still young. If we want to be raising a generation of compassionate and loving people, we must be willing to have these uncomfortable discussions and encourage our children to be accepting and overcome differences. Non-violent communication is one amazing resource when it comes to navigating tense conversations. This type of communication strives to be free from blame or criticism.
According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the four components of nonviolent communication are observations, feelings, needs, and requests. It all begins with listening and building empathy. One great way to build empathy is to share books with your child about diverse characters so that they can observe different perspectives and grasp a wide variety of experiences. Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race and Can I Touch Your Hair? are two children's books which seek to build understanding and create space around the subject of racial differences.
In the first of the First Conversations series, Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race, author Megan Madison provides a clear, concise, and safe space for children of all ages to talk about race. She offers readers questions for observation and then goes on to present an honest, unbiased explanation of racism. Madison writes, "Racism hurts and is always unfair! That's why it's important to talk about it and do our part to make things better". By opening up this dialogue with kids, we allow for open-ended questions and a deepening of their understanding of others' perspectives.
This book also celebrates differences in skin color. There's an unmistakably joyful tone to the first half of the book, which salutes all the variegated shades that people come in. In the back matter of the book, there are some fantastic tips for parents and caretakers that help to continue the conversation and to be prepared for children's reactions. Madison also lists a resource page on the First Conversations website, linked here. This page includes resources such as websites, videos, and reading lists for kids about different topics under the umbrella of antiracism.
Can I Touch Your Hair? By Irene Latham and Charles Waters is a beautiful book of poetry for older children which explores these concepts. The story begins when two seemingly very different children are paired up for a poetry project, in which they have to co-compose a collection of poems together. Even though Irene is a soft-spoken blonde girl and Charles is a talkative black boy, they end up sharing many things in common, and become great friends in the process.
Filled with the candor and innocence of grade school, these two characters discover that they share a love for writing, funky shoes, and many of the social pressures of being a fifth grader. Amongst themselves, their classmates, and their families, Irene and Charles encounter different racial tensions and compare their experiences in the form of side-by-side poems. Forgiveness, vulnerability, and compassion resonate throughout the pages of this book.
Most violence stems from ignorance. If we can ensure that our children are informed and exposed to differing perspectives, we can open their hearts and make room for more compassion and tolerance. What better way to engage your child in conversation than by introducing these topics through children's books?! As parents, caretakers, aunts, uncles, teachers, and friends, you can have such a profound impact on a child. Children are so much more sensitive than we think, and by leading by example rather than shrinking from large societal issues, we can create a world of difference. Race is important, and by entering into discussions about race with the children in our lives, we're sure to learn something valuable from them!