How To Practice Mindful Representation
By: Kimberlee West Founder of Kids Swag
As early as 3 years old, kids are classifying people based on their appearances? (Source: The Atlantic) . The idea of being “colorblind” or avoiding discussions about race, unfortunately, reinforces racial prejudice in children. “When we fail to talk openly with our children about racial inequity in our society, we are in fact contributing to the development of their racial biases, which studies show are already in place.” (Dr. Erin Winkler, 2017)
What Can You Do?
As a parent, I implore you to start having the conversation about race early. However, the first conversation about race should not be about racism. It actually doesn’t even involve a conversation. It starts as early as 3 months with the visuals that you include in your child’s world.
As a mom and a marketer I created my company Kids Swag, an eCommerce store that helps parents Raise Confident Kids that Appreciate Difference, based on the philosophy I use to raise my two girls – Mindful Representation.
What Is Mindful Representation?
Mindful Representation is a practice inspired by the concept of Mindfulness. Mindful Representation is about parents being intentional about the images and experiences that their child engages in to gain a greater sense of self and an appreciation of others.
How do you Practice Mindful Representation?
It involves three key areas:
Have Diverse Visuals
It’s important that the images represent your child and the diverse world around them.
We tell our parents to start with the #BookToyAudit
Take a moment to review your child’s toys and book. Who is represented? Does it only reflect your family instead of the diversity of our world? For my first daughter, at age 2, she had a strong desire to look like the Disney princesses and wanted her hair styled in similar ways. I realized I had been unintentionally letting the images in her world define a limited view of what it meant to be pretty and a princess. Continually seeing a particular race filling the same role leads to unchecked bias that is applied to an entire race (e.g. Apu from the Simpsons has long been criticized for reinforcing negative stereotypes about the South Asian community).
For the black community, the stereotypes are even more damaging and have contributed to unchecked bias and systematic racism that negatively affects black kids ability to pursue excellence.
Start The Conversation
Keep it simple and just start the conversation! The worst conversation adults can have with kids about race is no conversation at all.
Is it time to jump into a race conversation? It depends, but generally, at age 5 and younger a conversation is not as important as the visuals and the type of language you use to have conversations about the different races and ethnicities in our world. It is important as you start to have the conversation that you use positive language when pointing out differences The below conversation is organized by age but it’s not to imply that you’re finished by age 5. Its really to indicate how early these conversations should be happening and then if you’re practicing Mindful Representation you are then iterating on the below throughout your child and even your own life.
For my girls, I didn’t start off at age 0-2 telling them they were black. I was intentional in seeking out books, toys, and TV shows that had characters that looked like them doing everyday activities like gymnastics, going to the park, and playing hockey. For my girls, loving their skin, hair and culture has been normalized and I have expanded this practice to enrich their life learning about other cultures and ethnicities using the same Mindful Representation philosophy.
Mindful Representation Conversation Guide – Moving from Visuals to a Discussion
|Age 0-2||Age 2-3||Age 3-4||Age 4-5|
|Have toys, books, and shows that have black characters
Highlight similarities ‘I love that he plays soccer like you!’
their uniqueness or difference
‘I love her skin or hair.’
‘This character/toy looks just like (someone you know), isn’t that so cool!’
|Start with culture before race
‘There are so many types of people in the world (for example Abi is from Jamaica and we are from Italy), do you want to learn more about that country?’
Starting with race helps ensure the race is not seen as a monolith – black people from Ghana are different from Guyana.
Use books and shows on this topic as your guide.
They help start the conversation.
Have Diverse Experiences
The Book Toy Audit mentioned above is only the beginning. We also ask parents to reflect on their child’s world and consider how often do they have meaningful interaction with other people that look or act differently? This is not only important for the child but also helps parents to gain an expanded view of other cultures, ethnicities, and races.
It’s also an important step because practicing Mindful Representation is not about what you buy its about how you live your life and what actions you take to continually normalize difference and representation.
Take playtime as an example. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics – “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them” If playtime does not consist of diverse images that reflect a child’s world they are already pre-disposed to unconscious bias.
Beyond playtime seek out community events and activities that expand your child’s view of difference. I go out of my way to find dance classes that are diverse. When my daughter showed an interest in hockey and skating I casually would play youtube videos that featured black skaters and hockey players. I didn’t have to point out they were black but I knew this simple act signaled to them that they too could take part in this activity. I am a big proponent of experiences because kids learning best by doing and engaging with others rather than continuous conversations.
If this piece struck a chord, I highly recommend checking out our resource guide Diversifying Your Toy and Book Collection. In this guide, it gives a summary of Mindful Representation and then provides links sourced from our community on books, toys, and tv shows that can help in your practice of Mindful Representation. We are continually refreshing this guide and welcome new suggestions. If you have any please reach out.
By: Kimberlee West of Kids Swag
By: Kimberlee West, Founder of Kids Swag.
Kim is a Tech marketer and mother of 2 girls that inspired the creation of Kids Swag – It was important my two girls grew up in a world that reflected and appreciated their beauty and culture