By Dr. Jacqueline Douge
A year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement, The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, that I co-authored. The statement provided evidence about how racism impacts the developmental, physical and mental health of all children and provided recommendations for pediatric providers to help our families mitigate the impact of racism on the health of children. As both a mom and pediatrician, it’s personal to me to help other parents find ways to address the issues of race and racism with their children. I want all children to be healthy and thriving!
After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Ahmery and many others and the protests for racial and social justice this past summer, parents were confronted with how to talk to young children about race and racism. Many parents also struggled with the question, “How young is too young to talk to my child about these topics?”
Children begin to develop an understanding of race very early. By the age of 6 months, children notice racial differences and by 2-4 years of age begin to internalize racial bias. Our children are watching, listening and learning to everything around them and from their parents. As your child’s first teacher, you play an important role in helping to teach your children about empathy, kindness, compassion and fairness towards others, to build positive racial and ethnic identities, celebrate similarities and differences and to help children to create a more just world.
One tool that I recommend to help parents begin and sustain conversations and about race is books. As a pediatrician, I strongly encourage parents to read with children not only to promote early childhood literacy and writing skills but to open our children’s imagination about what’s possible and to learn something new about themselves and others.
Build a diverse and inclusive bookshelf for your children
Below are some tips to help you choose diverse and inclusive children’s books.
- Choose books that include characters of color
- Choose books with a main character of color
- Choose books written or illustrated by a person of color, of different nationalities, of different ethnicities
- Choose age-appropriate books
- Choose books with multidimensional characters
- Select books that are relevant to their experiences
- Choose books -“mirror” books and “window” books-that allow children to see themselves reflected and book in which they learn about others
Below are resources to help you as you build a diverse and inclusive library for your children.
- Reading and RES: Choosing Books to Discuss Race and Ethnicity
- 20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good
- The Brown Bookshelf
- American Indian Library Association 2020 Awarded Books
- We Need Diverse Books: Where to Find Diverse Books
- Your local library!
Conversation starters about race
The following questions can help parents begin the conversation with kids
- What did you like most about the book?
- What do you have in common with the character(s)?
- Who was your favorite character and why?
Our children are learning about race and ethnicity very early. Books are an important tool for helping children learn about race, developing empathy and kindness towards others and appreciating differences and similarities. As you read with your child, ask them questions, listen to their response, and be open to the questions they have.
It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. The conversations are opportunities to model for our children that we’re open to have these conversations and to learning. It’s important that we start the conversations even though it may be hard and awkward. Books can help begin an important and ongoing conversation.
Dr. Jacqueline Douge is a pediatrician, public health practitioner, writer and speaker. She’s the former Deputy Health Officer for the Frederick County Health Department and Medical Director for the Howard County Health Department. She is the co-author of the American Pediatrics Policy, The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health. She serves as the Chair of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MDAAP) Committee on Achieving Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
She is a renowned leader in the area of racism and children’s health. She’s the founder of What is Black, a digital media company that creates and produces diverse and inclusive family and children's programming to entertain, uplift and affirm Black families, children and youth.
In addition, she’s the author of the new middle grade novel, Learning to Love All of Me, which addresses racial identity, self-love and family.