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Teaching and Reinforcing Racial Diversity to Toddlers

Inclusion and representation don’t just happen on their own.  As parents, we must actively work to make them part of our children’s lives.

In the wake of the race-centered political and social upheaval last year, it felt like there were articles, podcasts, and social media posts everywhere on talking about race with your kids.  As the mother of a then one-year-old, I was a little confused.  My son could barely talk– surely he wasn’t ready for a conversation about the realities of racism?  

In talking with my own mom, I realized there was a lot I could do, even for a child his age.  You see, I come from a biracial family; my dad is from India and my mom is white.  I didn’t realize all of the intentional work my mom had done when we were young to celebrate our own racial diversity and represent others as well.

Racial Diversity for Toddlers

Here are three questions for my fellow toddler mamas trying to champion racial diversity.

Do the books in your home feature a diverse range of people in a positive light?

Not every book that you choose to promote diversity needs to be overtly about race, equality, or body positivity.  Toddlers probably are not ready for heavy historical topics either.  My goal for my two-year-old is simply for him to see a variety of protagonists equally celebrated.  Here are some of the books on our shelf right now:

Do the toys in your home all look the same, or do they reflect diversity and inclusion?

Around the time “Space Jam” hit the box office my dad shaved his head for twin day at school (yeah, he’s an awesome teacher).  My innovative mom found a Michael Jordan “Barbie”, used a sharpie to add a goatee, and voila- I finally had a Barbie that looked like my dad!

Diversity in toys has come a long way since the ’90s.  When our son got a dollhouse for Christmas this year that came with an all-white family, it was easy to find a black family on Amazon that matched.  Barbie has made huge strides in representation.  Even LEGO minifigs aren’t just yellow anymore.  Inclusion is now just a few clicks away.

I’m not trying to say all of your kid’s toys need to be a shade of brown, or even that the majority of them do.  Diversity in toys, however, is about more than just “political correctness”.  Playtime, especially for our toddler-aged children, helps them understand, process, and explore their world.  Your playroom at home is a safe space for them to practice and play through equality, inclusion, and acceptance.

Does your child have the opportunity to interact with people the same as and different from themselves?

I live in Marion, a city where the population is over 90% white.  That means if I’m not intentional about where and how we spend our time, my son’s world is pretty monochromatic.  As valuable as books and toys are, it is important for him to experience diversity in real life.

One way I do this is through our parks.  When we decide which park to go to, sometimes I pick based on equipment or proximity.  But sometimes I intentionally pick the parks where I know he’ll get to play with other brown kids.  Through play, he has learned that, whether someone looks like him or not, they can coexist happily together and share interests like swinging and sliding.

One of the sweet things I love about my son is that he calls every kid he meets “friend”.  I honestly don’t remember if I started it or he did, but I am definitely reinforcing it!  Every child can be his friend. 

Every child deserves kindness and respect.  Even though he is only two, I can teach him this through his books, his toys, and his community. 

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