Three 4 year old children were playing together.
Girl A: Who should I give this stick to?
Girl B and Boy: Me, me, me!
Girl A: I can’t give it to you. You are not my same color.
Which response did I coach…?
You’re not picking a color. You are picking a friend.
That’s it. Short, sweet, and to the point.
Four-year-olds notice color. They notice every detail and speak about them with various intent: curiosity, imitation, reflection, fear, humor, surprise, cruelty, or racist. Yep. It’s a range.
To run and jump to the most obscene intentions, believing it to be intentionally racist, ignites defenses and shame for the adults attempting to help their children navigate early childhood as best they can. Raising children is a messy and tangled business. Tinges and strings of your preferences, prejudices, injuries, suspicions scatter a fine layer of dust on your child’s belief systems. Let’s not add in your partner, extended family, friends, religious beliefs, media exposure etc.
I push to encourage conversation and understanding. So when my child came home and told me this story. I stopped my adult narrative and focused on the issue at hand.
The girl attempted to isolate some variables to make it more logical. She may have derived skin tone as a meaningful distinction in the moment or from a conversation she overheard or had been taught prior. My focus was to provide language to help during these life moments.
How does a child pick between two friends?
Reminding the girl of the bond of friendship decreases the power play, fear, or over-analysis at the moment. I wanted my child to know she was connected through friendship.
Friendship was a meaningful variable.
Whatever the choice, it would be received by a friend. Whatever the slight, two four-year-old friends can work through it.
I have great faith in the parent village around me to help me teach through the power of conversation and understanding. Yes, I shared the details of the experience with the other families and stayed focused on this as a learning opportunity for us all. The faster I shared with others the more the focus remained on the passing of the stick. This was not time to place blame, this was the time for positive shifting.
So in the end, was the phrase possibly racist? Maybe yes, maybe no. What I did know to be true was the learning opportunity at hand.
If any of this has reminded you of an experience in your childhood or one that your child has encountered. Please post your thoughts or challenges with me here or schedule a call.
Navigating early childhood with you,
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