Recent events in the US have ignited a worldwide conversation on the issue of racism. Even here in Singapore, race is a highly relevant issue that permeates various levels of society, seeing that the island-state is densely populated with people of various races. But when it comes to the next generation, how much do our kids know about racism? If we want to seek change, how can we educate our children regarding these issues?
Being aware and sensitive about other cultures is a key skill to have, because we live in a globalised world where the likelihood of interacting or working alongside other races is very high. However, the sensitivity of the topic means that many parents fail to properly talk to their children about it at all.
Rather aptly, we are one month away from Singapore’s racial harmony day, observed annually on 21st July, making it a wonderful time to begin thinking about how we can talk to children about this topic. There’s no better time than now to spark these conversations at home. Not sure where to begin? Here are some tips for parents:
Some people may approach the issue of racism with a ‘colour-blind’ mindset – effectively ignoring differences between people of different racial backgrounds. However, that often turns out to be insensitive rather than effective, and fails to acknowledge that differences between races – and individuals! – are a fact of life.
As they are still discovering the world, children are not shy about pointing out differences in people they see. How parents respond matters! By shushing them, you send the message that being different is ‘weird’ or ‘bad’, discouraging them from discussing it further, and shutting doors to future learning. Instead, it is better to acknowledge these differences factually, without judgment.
At the same time, you can also draw attention to similarities, as it reminds us that despite physical and cultural differences, people of different races still share a lot in common as fellow humans.
Expose them to other cultures
A lot of racist sentiments come from a lack of understanding and respect of people of other races. To counter this, education is the best cure. You can increase your child’s awareness of other races and cultures regularly through participating in cultural exchanges, community appreciation events, or even through trying out foods of various cuisines.
Your choice of school or place of worship, if any, can also serve as a great platform for meeting peers of diverse backgrounds. By regularly interacting with diverse peoples, children are less likely to form an ethnocentric view, and instead be more open and respectful to people who seem different to them.
Use books as starting points
Many conversations start from innocuous questions, like ‘Why is her hair a different colour from mine?’ But if your child hasn’t had opportunities to ask such questions, or if you are finding it hard to approach the topic, you can create a starting point.
Books are a wonderful place to begin. There are plenty of children’s storybooks with narratives about multicultural characters and experiences that you can incorporate into your child’s reading list. With relatable themes suitable for kids, stories can serve as an effective springboard to having conversations and lessons about embracing differences.
Hold older kids accountable
Navigating conversations about race can be difficult, but above all, it should serve to instil respect. Parents need to let their child know what is okay to say, and what is inappropriate (that is, disrespectful, insensitive, or hurtful) to say. This can be done through a combination of setting an example, and gentle reminders.
Kids who are old enough to understand the issue of racism should be held accountable for their words and actions – this sends across the message that you take racism seriously, and it is behaviour that should be discouraged. In the event that your child exhibits recurring inappropriate behaviour, seek to find out why. Perhaps they may have had some misconceptions, or have been affected by a past bad experience. Addressing these issues early will prevent them from becoming more problematic down the road.
Far better than keeping quiet, having conversations about race with your children can help them make sense of the issue early, and ready them mentally and emotionally to face related issues as they grow up. Letting your child begin their educational journey in a diverse environment is a wonderful first step.
International schools in Singapore present the perfect melting pot for children to be exposed to peers coming from various parts of the world. Not only do kids get to interact daily with schoolmates of varying backgrounds, they can also learn together in a safe environment and make lifelong friends.
If you are a parent on the lookout for the best kindergarten school or international primary school in Singapore, the school’s diversity is something you should definitely take into account. After all, your child’s school experience will have a significant impact on forming their worldview and outlook.