Little Monster loves to watch travel shows. At least once a week she watches PBS kids’ programming, which at 4pm EST switches to Rick Steves’ Europe. She says she likes the show because ‘she learns about places she can go someday.’ Last week as it came on and I was cleaning up the kitchen, I heard that they would be traveling to Poland, including the cities of Kraków, Warsaw, and a visit to Auschwitz. My ears perked up. Do I, as a mother to this tender preschooler, allow her to learn about some of the worst in human history? Or do I begin her education about race equality and our responsibility to love others regardless of differences?
Given recent events (which were not at all discussed with our children), I chose to observe and see how it played out. Afterall, she sometimes loses interest after a few minutes. She learned about the vibrant city of Kraków. She saw the old-fashioned buildings, heard the music, and learned a little bit of the history. From there, Rick Steves traveled to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I traveled to the couch and nonchalantly sat next to her. I learned quite a bit of history here too. I did not realize that they expanded to Birkenau as well because Auschwitz was ‘not effective enough.’ We saw piles of suitcases, shoes, glasses and prosthetics. The site has become a memorial to remind people of this history, in hopes that it does not repeat itself.
As Rick Steves left Auschwitz-Birkenau, Little Monster asked, ‘Why did those people do that?’ Here was my opportunity to put this horrible history into terms she could understand, and help her learn a lesson about diversity and inclusivity. I explained to her that those people were called Nazis. They lived a long time ago. They worked for a very bad man. They thought that people who looked or thought different than them weren’t good enough and should die. They were not nice.
We talked about differences in our family. Little Monster has curly brown hair and brown eyes. Little Miss has straight blond hair and blue eyes. They look very different, but they are both a part of our family. God made them both, and so he loves them both very much, even though they look different.
I asked her if she knew anyone with different color skin than her. She recalled a boy at Vacation Bible School, pointed to her skin and said his skin was black. I asked her what she thought of the boy. ‘He was nice. And shy.’ We talked about how God made him too. God created all His children to be different, but God loves all His children, no matter what they look like. We sang the song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
I distinctly remember the first time I noticed skin color. Although I have mixed cousins and had been around them since infancy, it was preschool when I noticed the dark skinned boy at my lunch table – I thought he had a really dark tan. I don’t remember my mom’s explanation, and I’ll never know the level of discrimination that my cousins and their parents surely faced and continue to endure. But I am thankful that from a young age I was raised to love all colors of people. Now my kids have mixed cousins too, so they see our family pictures with different colored skin included. And we’ve said for years that our group of best friends are the UN because of all the different countries and colors we represent! But in all seriousness, I’m so thankful for our diverse family and friends for my kids’ sake. It makes talking about race easy with loved ones who all look very different one from another.
As we wrapped up our conversation, she asked what happened to those bad people. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, and told her so, but I did tell her that they were never allowed to hurt anyone again. She asked, ‘Did they go to jail?’ And as this seemed a plausible response, I answered probably so. I continued the conversation into the present by telling her that even though those people can’t hurt anyone, there are people in the world now who don’t think that other people are good enough. That want to hurt people just because they look differently or have different ideas. We talked about how that’s not ok and if she has a friend who says something mean about the way a person looks, she should tell them that they need to stop it and be nice.
This is only the starting point for us in raising children who will fight for racial equality. I’m sure there will be many more conversations to come. Has your Little asked about skin color? Differences in dress? Ideologies? How do you approach the topic with your preschoolers?