Raising a tolerant child requires parents to think and act deliberately and positively when it comes to racial and other differences. But when should parents start to instill values of tolerance?
Research tells us that children generally begin to understand race in a meaningful way when they reach preschool age. But as we tend to say here at BabySparks: It’s never too early to start! Research also tells us that the first three years of life are a critical window for laying the foundation for the rest of a child’s life.
With that in mind, let’s focus on something at the heart of babies’ and toddlers’ lives: Books! The value of reading with your child cannot be understated; it promotes bonding, language skills, cognitive abilities, social-emotional intelligence, and even fine motor skills. Books are also an important way to begin exposing little ones to racial and other differences.
Racial bias stems, in part, from the idea of “otherness.” When we don’t feel familiar or comfortable with people who are different from us, bias can develop (even unconsciously). By including books with diverse characters (especially main characters), you can introduce your child to other races, cultures, traditions, gender roles, religions, and abilities from the start. In turn, this can help them not only accept differences, but also appreciate, respect and celebrate them.
As Rudine Sims Bishop said, books serve as both mirrors and windows – helping children understand themselves and the world around them. Books that portray positive role models for all races help children develop both a positive sense of self, and a positive sense of others.
Toddlers, of course, do not have the cognitive or language skills for complex conversations about race, but by building a book collection that reflects diversity in positive ways, you can start to not only expose them to differences in an organic way, but also answer questions they may have, for example, about why a book character has skin that is a different color.
Ready to include diverse books into your child’s collection? Here are some places to start: