By STEFANIE FOSTER BROWN
The talented and elegant Lupita Nyong’o came to my house last week. She was the celebrity guest on a Sesame Street episode devoted to kids and skin color. There, in the middle of my living room, with Elmo as her witness, Lupita proudly declared just how much she loved her “beautiful brown skin.” Lupita’s message of self-acceptance was so kind, wise, and tender . . . yet filled me with an unexpected uneasiness.
I couldn’t help but hear Lupita’s words without remembering times in my own life when brown skin did not feel so beautiful . . . Like when my neighbor told me she didn’t think we could play dolls together because she didn’t have any black ones for me. And the time a child on the bus asked me if I ate too much chocolate. I think everyone on the planet can name times when it wasn’t easy to be something — be it big, small, tall ,short, round, skinny, frizzy, flat, curly, you fill in the blank. The road to self-acceptance is sometimes a process. And as parents, we just hope it’s a short and easy one for our kids. I wondered what experiences awaited my daughter. How would others treat her in relation to what she looks like? Would times come when she struggled with acceptance? What did I need to do, as her parent, to prepare her for life’s challenges?
While my daughter watched the segment with Lupita, she listened intently, but said nothing. I could tell by the look on her face that she was processing and that a conversation was starting though. Her response came later on that afternoon. Somewhere mid-snack, she made her own declaration: “Mommy, my skin is brown . . .” A rush of nerves came over me and as my brain conjured up all the ways and words I needed to continue the conversation Lupita began. I needed to bolster her up for a world that sometimes fails to see the beauty in all skin colors. I needed her to know Lupita was right, that brown skin is just as beautiful as any other tone! . . . But before I could continue, she was on to the next topic.
In that moment, I realized that all the things I needed to say, were not really to my daughter, but to the little girl who used to be me – a little girl who maybe could’ve used a Lupita to take center stage in her living room to let her know she too had the right to feel valid, worthy, and beautiful. What struck me about my 3-yr old’s assessment of brown skin, was just how neat and simple it was — completely unattached to any judgments, positive or negative. I had to honor that. Really, the only thing she needed from me that afternoon . . . was the space to allow her own experiences to unfold.
I’ve been combing through my thoughts and trying to tease out the some of the ways I can better guide my daughter’s experiences without skewing them with my own. Here are some ideas that might help you as well:
KIDS AND SKIN COLOR: HOW TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION
- Before you make a statement, ask a question! Try not to jump to conclusions about why children say or do certain things. Often the reasons behind a child’s thoughts and behaviors are way more simple and innocent than we’d ever suspect.
- Really listen before making assumptions. Instead of thinking of the next thing you’re going to say, just focus on what your child is telling you. That way, you’ll have the chance to really get your head around their point of view.
- Remind yourself of the ways your child and you are different from each other. No parent and child are exactly the same. Sometimes we over focus on commonalities because that helps us feel affirmed and bonded with each other. Make it a point to let your child know the qualities you admire about them that might be different from your own.
- Accept that you’ll never be completely free of slants and skews in your lens of the world. Your experiences are uniquely yours and they serve you well in so many way. They help you understand who you are and the world in which you live. Always look for the value in your experiences and those that life brings your child.
Stefanie Foster Brown, a certified school psychologist, hosts Preschoology, a blog for parents and school professionals to find fresh ideas, tips, and tools to help young children learn and grow. She lives in Tampa with her husband, Eli, and their daughter. The couple are currently developing a series of educational mobile apps to teach young children new skills. Check out Stefanie on Twitter and Facebook.
This post appeared first on Preschoology. It was reprinted with permission.