Updated: Apr 9, 2021
Living in a time of blatant racial injustice all around us is very, very difficult. How do we explain it to our children? What is appropriate to say at what age? How do we give them the tools now to build a better world when it’s their time to do so? How do we model for them how to navigate the world kindly and compassionately? Below is a ladder of lessons that you may find helpful depending on the age of your child.
Toddlers 1-3 years old. The lesson is Empathy. Everyone is born with empathy. The more young children see that in their surroundings and hear it from their loved ones, the more they can grow it themselves.
Babies are born naturally gentle and sweet, but that’s also because they are still small and vulnerable. When they start having more energy and strength, it’s good to teach them to use it gently on those more vulnerable or smaller than them. Deliberately pointing that out helps them learn empathy in their actions and words.
“You were being gentle with the cat, good job.”
“I like the way you are softly touching my arm to get my attention.”
“I liked it when you helped me set the table, that was helpful and made my job easier.”
Preschool 2-4 years old. The lesson is Kindness. We all have a choice to be kind or not. We can relate to people and get things done with or without it. Children quickly observe that as we go about our lives relating to people: when we order takeout, when we buy from the store, when we order at the restaurant, ask a question at the bank and most of all, when we interact with each other at home. Kindness is a muscle that we can grow and make stronger everyday.
Reminding them to use manners
Use calm tones even if you have to be firm
Be aware that everyone is heard and take their turn speaking
Pre-Kindergarten 4-5 years old. The lesson is Resilience. At this age, children are so adept at expressing themselves that they might run into conflict with their friends. They are beginning to know themselves and their preferences and they might not understand why others don’t feel or act the way they do. They are beginning to realize that not everyone is like them and they might not know how to feel about and respond to that.
We can point out the differences between people’s actions and opinions as long as they are being kind, gentle and considerate of others.
We can teach them that accepting the difference of others actually makes us grow larger and smarter. Like earning more powers for a superhero!
When we correct our child’s behavior, remind them it’s a great opportunity for their kindness and resilience muscles to grow. Take them aside and speak gently so that you are not shaming them. Whispering in their ear gets their attention can calm them down.
Discuss what putting yourself in someone else’s shoes means. Answer their questions with compassion and grace.
Modeling acceptance of other people or situations
Discussing problem-solving situations and being proud of them for trying
Learning about the different cultures of people you know
Modeling conflict-resolution if they are having differences with friends
Telling stories about people solving differences
Modeling kindness to people in our community
Taking turns in games and being a good sport
Listening to each other and responding with kind words
Praising children when they use their manners and kind words to express themselves
Telling stories about how a community comes together
Modeling empathy at home
Playing with babies / animals gently
Telling stories about being gentle and caring for others
Providing positive reinforcement when they’re being gentle and helpful
Kindness jar - they get a penny for every act of kindness and get a reward when there are enough pennies.
“The worst conversation adults can have with kids about race is no conversation at all,” says author Jemar Tisby. “Talking to kids about race needs to happen early, often, and honestly.”
Infant toddler (6 mos to 2 yrs)
Preschool (2 to 4 yrs)
Pre-K (4 to5 yrs)
Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement for Young Kids by Laleñia Garcia
Resources for adults
Donate to local and national bail funds:
Thank you to Katrina Green of Chick Peas Coop School
& Medina Kahlil of Brooklyn Free Space
for these resources