Breathe, Feel, Share
Three steps to navigating race-related conflicts.
USING THIS VIDEO
First, watch the video yourself to decide whether to share it with children. If you do, first point out that in video, Abby is an upstander and an ally. Upstanders and allies:
- Notice things that are unfair.
- Stand up and speak out against unfairness.
- Stand together with others.
- Use their voices and actions to make the world a little better.
- Listen to those who are being treated unfairly and learn from the stories they hear.
In this video, Elijah supports Wes and Abby by guiding them through three steps (breathe, feel, share) that can help all children navigate race-related conflicts:
- Breathe: Breathe to calm down. Take three deep belly breaths! Notice how they change the way your body feels.
- Feel: Notice your feelings. Where in your body do you feel them? (Your chest may feel tight or heavy, your heart may beat faster, your skin may feel hot, or your head may feel light.) Give them words (such as sad, frustrated, or angry). Then say how you feel and why. When explaining why someone’s actions were hurtful, you might use words like unfair, unkind, and not okay.
- Share: Tell a grownup what happened. You don’t have to handle this problem alone, and the grown-ups in charge need to know about the problem so they can help make sure it doesn’t happen again. They can also help you with your big feelings.
WHEN DIFFERENCES DIVIDE US
By Chandra Ghosh Ippen, PhD
In this video, Wes, Abby, and Wes’ dad Elijah discuss a painful incident in which someone made fun of Wes’s lunch (curried chicken, his favorite). For many of us, our food represents our family history and the richness of our cultural heritage. If someone makes fun of it or suggests there’s something wrong with it, we might worry they also think there’s something wrong with us. But ethnic food is part of the diversity among us!
Unfortunately, moments like this are quite common and even more hurtful that the moment shared in the video, but thoughtful conversations can help children learn to handle them. Wes and Elijah show how a parent and child might talk together about a painful moment in which cultural and racial differences divide people.
All too often, young children might hear another say, “I can’t play with you because you [are Black, speak Spanish, are from China, and so on].” You can help children learn to pause and notice how a comment like this make their bodies feel—where in their bodies they might feel it, the emotions that arise, and how those reactions may affect how they respond unless they take this pause).
These moments in which someone is made to feel “other” are difficult and painful, but they’re also important teachable moments—opportunities in which grown-ups can “lean in,” slow down, listen, talk, and support children’s healthy social-emotional growth and development.
Research shows that even babies notice racial differences, and toddlers and preschoolers show racial biases. Children are sponges—they learn quickly and try to make sense of the rules of their community. They’re gathering information to “paint their world,” and trying to figure out important things such as:
- Who is good? Who is bad?
- Who is safe? Who is dangerous?
- Who is similar to me? Who is different?
- Who belongs? Who doesn’t?
- What do people do when they disagree?
- What do people do when they’re angry?
As adults, we teach children how to behave in our communities and our cultural groups. In the same way we help them learn to share toys and respond when they’re angry, we also teach them about differences. If we stay quiet when children witness racism, our silence can teach them that these interactions are okay.
Instead, we can help children take care of themselves, stand strong in their own skin, stand together as allies to one another, learn to honor and celebrate differences, and find similarities and connections across all groups. If we can step in and guide children in dealing with challenging race-related situations, we can help them develop a healthier view of themselves, their communities, and the world.
Chandra Ghosh Ippen, PhD is a child psychologist and children’s book author. She is Associate Director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco, Director of Dissemination and Implementation for Child-Parent Psychotherapy, and a member of the board of directors of Zero to Three. She has spent the last 28 years conducting research, clinical work, and training in the area of childhood trauma and has co-authored over 20 publications on trauma and diversity-informed practice.
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