Talking to Children about Racial Bias

By Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP

Given the tragic and racially-charged current events, many parents are wrestling with their own feelings, the hopes they have for their children, and the difficulty of helping those children thrive in a world full of racial bias.

Parents may better face today’s challenges with an understanding of how racial bias works in children, as well as strategies to help them deal with and react to racial differences.

How Do Children Learn Racial Bias?

Children learn about racial differences and racial bias from an early age and learn from their first teachers — their parents — how to deal with and react to these differences.

The process of learning racial bias is a lot like learning a new language (e.g., a child raised bilingual vs. a child who starts learning Spanish in junior high). Biology determines a critical early learning period as well as a later window where learning is much harder.

  • As early as 6 months, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences.
  • By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.
  • By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.

But like language immersion, children exposed to society will gain fluency in racial bias even if their parents do nothing.

Strategies to Help Children Deal with Racial Bias

There are three strategies that parents can use to help their children deal with racial bias:

  • Talk to your children and acknowledge that racial differences and bias exist.
  • Confront your own bias and model how you want your children to respond to others who may be different than them.
  • Encourage your children to challenge racial stereotypes and racial bias by being kind and compassionate when interacting with people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.

How Parents Can Confront Their Own Racial Bias

Parents must first confront their own biases, so that their example is consistent with messages of racial and ethnic tolerance.

  • Be a role model. Identify and correct your own racially biased thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you want your children to believe what you preach, you have to exhibit those behaviors as well. Your everyday comments and actions will say more than anything else.
  • Have a wide, culturally diverse social network. Encourage your children to have diverse circles of friends, as well. This lends itself to engagement in multicultural activities and experiences.
  • Travel and expose your children to other communities. This can help them understand that there is diversity in the world that might not be represented in the community that you live in.
  • Do not reverse stereotype police officers and other groups or talk about law enforcement in a negative way.
  • Get involved in your child’s school, your place of worship, and politics. Parents who are involved in this way are better able to advocate for fair treatment of racially marginalized groups and raise awareness of race issues in other groups.

Tips for Talking About Racial Differences & Racism

Talking about race is not racist. It’s OK—and important. From a young age, children may have questions about racial differences and parents must be prepared to answer them. But, it’s important to keep your child’s developmental readiness in mind.

  • For preschoolers: At this age, your child may begin to notice and point out differences in the people around you (i.e., at the grocery store, at the park, etc.). If your child asks about someone’s skin tone, you might say, “Isn’t it wonderful that we are all so different!” You can even hold your arm against theirs to show the differences in skin tones in your family.
  • For gradeschoolers: This is the age that is important to have open talks with your child about race, diversity, and racism. Discussing these topics will help your child see you as a trusted source of information on the topic, and he or she can come to you with any questions. Point out stereotypes and racial bias in media and books such as villains or “bad guys” in movies.
  • If your child makes comments or asks you questions about race based on school incidents or something they read or watched: Further the discussion with questions such as, “How do you feel about that?” and “Why do you think that?” This is also helpful if your child heard something insensitive or if your child experienced racial bias themselves. Before responding to his or her statement or question, figure out where it came from and what it means from his or her perspective.

These conversations begin to lay the groundwork for your child to accept and respect everyone’s differences and similarities. As children mature, the answers to questions will become more complex. These are moments to learn what your child understands or is struggling to understand about racial bias.

Remember:

To create a culture of inclusiveness, we all must look at and acknowledge our biases, so we can do something about the ones that are unfair or cause harm to others—like racial bias. Understanding the way people feel about and behave toward those outside their own group can help communities heal after a tragedy, as well as prevent future ones.


Author: Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2016). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


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How to Have a Family Meeting

Weekly family meetings are an effective and pleasant way to bring the family together, to improve communication, to set weekly goals, to recognize and reward progress, and to determine each member’s needs and feelings.

  • The meetings should occur at a regular, pleasant time—for in­stance, after dinner, with dessert.
  • Parents can serve as discussion leaders and make sure that any ground rules are clearly explained and understood.
  • The meetings should emphasize both individual and family needs, goals, and accomplishments and discuss positive events and efforts. During the meeting parents can give allowances and praise and reward behavior progress and changes. They can also share other relevant family information, such as an up­coming family vacation or school event to prepare for.
  • Each family member should be allowed to speak without criti­cism or interruption, to share his or her thoughts, feelings, achievements, and hopes.
  • The meeting is not a time or place to scold, punish, recall past mistakes, blow off steam, or single out a particular person. Those issues should be taken up separately and individually.
  • The meetings should last no more than twenty or thirty min­utes unless the family wants to continue.
  • Everyone should understand and accept that parents have the final word in difficult decisions.
  • A record should be kept of the main points, rewards, progress toward goals, new goals and agreements.
  • Before the meeting ends, anyone who wants to should have a chance to say how he or she thinks the meeting went, and what might be done to make the next meeting better.

Source: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Communicating Beyond the Family

The communication skills your child learns will affect the way he interacts not only with you but with the world at large. These skills will help your youngster to negotiate, solve problems, and learn from others. Communication can also be used to praise, punish, express feelings, and provide insights and under­standing.

The way you communicate is part and parcel of what you communicate. Done well, communication is how you convey love, acceptance, respect, and approval to your child. Providing praise, for example, is not just saying words. It requires that you understand how your child thinks about himself and his behavior, and knowing when and in what way you can share with him your pride, so that he is best able to hear you and accept what you are trying to say. Successful communication is a two-person process, not merely one person saying something to another. If you consistently communicate well with your child, he will know that you think well of him. Not only will this nurture your relationship with him, but it can help him grow, develop, and live up to his ca­pabilities as a person.

Unfortunately, too many parents do a poor job of expressing this accep­tance. They may think: If I tell my son that in my eyes he is just fine the way he is, he won’t be motivated to work harder and do better in life. But in fact, chil­dren do better once they feel relieved of the pressure of having to win their parents’ approval. Rather than constantly judging and criticizing your child, let him know that you accept and love him. In turn, he will begin to like him­self more, and his self-esteem will grow.

Make an effort to communicate this acceptance through both words and ac­tions. Yes, you can demonstrate your feelings in nonverbal ways through your body language, including your facial expressions, hugs, and gestures. But you also need to say it.

Too often, parents choose ineffective, nonaccepting ways to communicate verbally with their children. They might give commands (“You’re going to do it as I say or else!”), lecture (“When I was a boy, I had twice as many chores as you”), or preach (“You must never behave that way again”). Or they might crit­icize (“You are doing everything wrong today”), ridicule (“You looked silly when you struck out”), or belittle (“Someone your age should know better”).

Be positive and accepting in the way you talk with your child. Offer praise often and be as specific as you can (“You did a wonderful job solving that dif­ficult problem in your math homework tonight”). Let him know how much you appreciate him as he is, without his having to struggle to resemble your own preconceived notions of how you want him to be (“I was so proud just watch­ing you run in the track meet today”).

You can also demonstrate acceptance by not involving yourself in some of your child’s activities. For example, if you just let him paint without giving him advice on what colors to mix together, this will convey the message that he is doing just fine on his own. In much the same way, you can listen quietly to your child at times, without interjecting your own thoughts and comments that might contradict or correct him.



Source: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Energy Out: Daily Physical Activity Recommendations

​Physical activity in children and adolescents improves strength and endurance, builds healthy bones and lean muscles, develops ​ motor skills and coordination, reduces fat, and promotes emotional well-being (reduces feelings of depression and anxiety). Activities should be appropriate for their age and fun, as well as offer variety.

The daily recommendation for physical activity for children 6 years and older is at least 60 minutes per day. Active play is the best exercise for younger children.

The types of physical activity should be moderate to vigorous. Vigorous activity is activity that makes you breathe hard and sweat. During vigorous activity, it would be difficult to have a talk with someone. Some activities, such as bicycling, can be of moderate or vigorous intensity, depending upon level of effort.

The 60 minutes does not need to be done all at once. Physical activity can be broken down into shorter blocks of time. For example, 20 minutes walking to and from school, 10 minutes jumping rope, and 30 minutes at the playground all add up to 60 minutes of physical activity. If your child is not active, start from where you are and build from there.

Here are some types of sports and activities for children and teens (and parents, too!)

Aerobic Exercises

  • Use body’s large muscle groups
  • Strengthen the heart and lungs
  • Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises include: brisk walking, Bicycle riding, dancing,hiking, rollerblading, skateboarding, martial arts such as karate or tae kwon do (can be vigorous too)
  • Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include: basketball, bicycle riding, games such as tag, ice or field hockey, jumping rope, martial arts, running, soccer, swimming, tennis

Muscle-Strengthening (or Resistance) Activities

  • Work major muscle groups of the body (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulder, arms)
  • Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include: games such as tug-of-war, push-ups or modified push-ups (with knees on the floor), resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands, rope or tree climbing, sit-ups (curl-ups or crunches), swinging on playground equipment/bars

Bone-Strengthening (Weight-Bearing) Activities

  • Tone and build muscles and bone mass
  • Can be aerobic exercises and muscle-strengthening activities
  • Examples of bone-strengthening activities include: basketball, hopping, skipping, jumping, gymnastics, jumping rope, running, tennis, volleyball, push-ups, resistance exercises using body weight or resistance bands

About Strength Training

Strength training(or resistance training) uses a resistance to increase an individual’s ability to exert force. It involves the use of weight machines, free weights, bands or tubing, or the individual’s own body weight. This is not the same as Olympic lifting, power lifting, or body building, which are not recommended for children. Check with your child’s doctor before starting any strength training exercises.


Source: Energy In Energy Out: Finding the Right Balance for Your Children (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Children & Teens

The start of the new year is a great time to help your children focus on forming good habits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following list of ideas for you to talk to your children about trying, depending on their age. ​

Preschoolers

  • I will try hard to clean up​ my toys by putting them where they belong.
  • I will let my parents help me brush my teeth twice a day.
  • I will wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
  • I will learn how to help clear the table when I am done eating.
  • I will be friendly to all animals. I will learn how to ask the owners if I can pet their animal first.
  • I will do my best to be nice to other kids who need a friend or look sad or lonely.
  • I will talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I need help or am scared.

Kids, 5 to 12 years old

  • I will drink reduced-fat milk​ and water most days. Soda and fruit drinks are only for special times.
  • I will take care of my skin by putting on sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright, sunny days. I will try to remember to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I’m playing sports.
  • I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like playing tag, jumping rope, dancing or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
  • I will always wear a helmet when riding a bike, scooter or skateboard.
  • I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car. I’ll sit in the back seat and use a booster seat until I am tall enough to use a lap/shoulder seat belt.
  • I’ll try to be friendly to kids who may have a hard time making friends by asking them to join activities such as sports or games.
  • I will tell an adult about bullying that I see or hear about to do what I can to help keep school safe for everyone.
  • I will keep my personal info safe and not share my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the Internet. Also, I’ll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without asking my parent if it is okay.
  • I will try to talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I have a problem or feel stressed.
  • I promise that I’ll do my best to follow our household rules for videogames and internet use.

Kids, 13 years old and older

  • I will try to eat two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables every day. I will drink sodas only at special times.
  • I will do my best to take care of my body through fun physical activity and eating the right types and amounts of foods.
  • When I have some down time for media, I will try to choose educational, high-quality nonn-violent TV shows and video games that I enjoy. I will spend only one to two hours each day – at the most – on these activities. I promise to respect out household rules for videogames and internet use.
  • I will do what I can to help out in my community. I will give some of my time to help others, working with community groups or others that help people in need. These activities will make me feel better about myself and my community.
  • When I feel angry or stressed out, I will take a break and find helpful ways to deal with the stress, such as exercising, reading, writing in a journal or talking about my problem with a parent or friend.
  • When faced with a difficult decision, I will talk about my choices with an adult whom I can trust.
  • When I notice my friends are struggling, being bullied or making risky choices, I will look for a trusted adultso that we can attempt to find a way to help.
  • I will be careful about whom I choose to date. I will treat the other person with respect and not force them to do something they do not want to do. I will not use violence. I will expect to be treated the same way in return.
  • I will resist peer pressure to try tobacco-cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. I will also avoid the use of e-cigarettes.
  • I agree not to use a cell phone or text message while driving and to always use a seat belt.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child

For you to care for your child properly, you need to be OK.​ In this video, pediatrician and adolescent specialist Ken Ginsburg, MD, FAAP discusses that the greatest gifts you can give your child are to live a balanced life and to show that when life offers us challenges, we take active steps to get back on track.​


Source: Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, 3rd Edition (Copyright © 2015 Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, and Martha M. Jablow). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Holiday Food Safety Tips

Whether it is holiday cookies, perogies, roast goose, latke or tamales, foods are an important ingredient of holiday celebrations. Teaching children to cook your family’s recipes can impart ethnic identity and culture, and offers a sense of accomplishment for young chefs. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips to keep holiday feasting fun and healthy:

  • When preparing food for a holiday celebration, follow food safety guidelines. Bacteria are often present in raw foods. Fully cook meats and poultry, and thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruits.
  • While you’re teaching your children family recipes, also teach them about good food safety. Wash your hands frequently, and make sure children do the same.
  • If you offer your helper a taste, be sure to wash the spoon before putting it back into the food.
  • Make sure that taste doesn’t include raw eggs or other ingredients that should be cooked before be eaten.
  • During preparations for a party, the refrigerator and freezer can become crowded with with sweets, roasts and other goodies, but don’t let these become breeding grounds for bacteria. Always keep raw foods and cooked foods separate, and use separate utensils when preparing them.
  • Always thaw meat in the refrigerator, never on the countertop.
  • Keep hot food and liquids away from the edges of counters and tables, where they can be easily knocked over by a young child’s exploring hands. Be sure that young children cannot access microwave ovens. Turn pot handles toward the side or back of the stove.
  • Foods that require refrigeration should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • After a holiday party, clean up immediately. A toddler could rise early and choke on leftover food or come in contact with alcohol or tobacco.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2018). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


10 Non-Tech Holiday Gift Ideas to Promote Kids’ Language & Learning

​​​Children of all ages are filling their holiday wish list with things like tablets, cell phones, wearables, headphones, and other tech-related gifts. But it’s important to find a balance and ensure that today’s connected kids ha​ve some quality off-line time, too. The holidays are a great time to get back to some of the basics in childhood play that foster communication and social interaction. Here are some ideas for a low-tech holiday gift list:

Traditional toys remain superior to electronic toys for children’s language development. For example, when toys talk, parents talk less—and subsequently, kids vocalize less. Blocks, dolls, musical instruments, cars, trains, shape-sorters, and other low-tech toys get kids—and parents—talking, singing, playing, and interacting. These all help build foundational communication skills.

Books always make excellent presents, and sharing the joy of reading is a lifelong gift.

  • ​For infants and toddlers: Books with textures inviting touch are ideal, as are colorful board and picture books.
  • For children learning how to read: Give books appropriate to their skill level to facilitate emerging literacy.
  • For older children: Find engaging chapter books and book series. Family members can take turns reading chapters aloud. This may be the start of a family book club.

​​Board, card, and conversation-based question games are great to enjoy and play as a family. They get everyone talking and laughing and build some great memories. There are games for all age ranges. And what better time of year than winter to begin family game nights for building conversation, connections—and fun!

Costumes and other dress-up accessories allow kids to use their imaginations and foster creativity. Children’s language skills expand as they make up dialogues, tell stories, sing, and take turns.

Building toys, blocks,​ and crafts make for some fun indoor activities to occupy kids on cold days. They also help hone fine motor skills for all ages. For young children, motor skills are closely linked to language development.

Outdoor toys such as balls, sleds, jump ropes, and yard games encourage running, jumping, sports and other active play. Physical activity and movement prime children for learning.

Puzzles — ranging from basic options for young children to complex types the whole family can attempt as a team—spur conversation while building analytical, problem-solving and other skills.

Cooking supplies work as fun gifts for children of almost any age. Involving young kids in making and trying new foods offers a wealth of opportunity for conversation and language-building, including likes and dislikes, tastes, textures, and more. For older kids, cooking together sets the scene for family bonding. Following recipes also helps improve reading and comprehension skills, planning, organization, sequencing, and following directions.

Crayons, colored pencils, coloring books and other writing supplies are a childhood staple, and they help children build fine-motor skills. Coloring also helps young children build their vocabulary and learn their color names.

​Tickets to child-friendly shows, sporting events, or other performances are great gifts, as they allow parents and children to enjoy special activities together. These outings promote family interaction, conversation, and bonding. In addition, memberships to local zoos, museums or aquariums make great gifts for entire families to enjoy!

Of course, technology gifts will likely remain on your child’s shopping lists year after year—the reality of growing up in today’s world. Parents can help their children balance their online and off-line lives. If you do give your child a technology-related gift, use it as an opportunity to lay out some ground rules and make a family media plan.


Copyright ©2016 American Academy of Pediatrics and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association/ASHA Leader. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Holiday Mental Health Tips

​The holidays can be a happy time of year for many people, as they gather with family and friends, exchange gifts and celebrate traditions. But the changes in family routines and extra demands on time can also cause some stress, especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips to help your family enjoy the best of the holiday season:

  • During the busy holiday time, try to keep household routines the same. Stick to your child’s usual sleep and mealtime schedules when you can, which may reduce stress and help your family enjoy the holidays.
  • Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Children and adolescents are affected by the emotional well-being of their parents and caregivers. Coping with stress successfully can help children learn how to handle stress better, too.
  • Make a plan to focus on one thing at a time. Try a few ideas to balance the hustle and bustle of things like shopping, cooking, and family get-togethers during the holidays: Stop and pay attention to what is happening at the moment, focus your attention on one thing about it, and notice how you are feeling at the time. Withhold immediate judgment, and instead be curious about the experience.
  • Give to others by making it an annual holiday tradition to share your time and talents with people who have less than you do. For example, if your child is old enough, encourage him or her to join you in volunteering to serve a holiday meal at your local food bank or shelter, or sing at a local nursing home. Help your child write a letter to members of the armed forces stationed abroad who can’t be home with their own family during the holidays.
  • Remember that many children and adults experience a sense of loss, sadness or isolation during the holidays. It is important to be sensitive to these feelings and ask for help for you, your children, family members or friends if needed.
  • Don’t feel pressured to over-spend on gifts. Consider making one or two gifts. Help your child make a gift for a parent, grandparent, or other important adults and friends. Chances are, those gifts will be the most treasured ones and will teach your child many important lessons.
  • Most important of all, enjoy the holidays for what they are — time to enjoy with your family. So, be a family, do things together like sledding or playing board games, and spend time visiting with relatives, neighbors and friends.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2017). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.