• Aditi Wardhan Singh

How Do You Talk to Your Kids About Skin Color?

Graphic by Anu Kumar

One afternoon, my son came home and told me, ”My friends and I put our hands together and they said I was different. ”

I told this incident to many of my mom friends and ALL of them surprisingly had heard their children and their friends doing the same. I asked them what they had told their kids and many just laughed it off or said,”It’s just something kids do.”

Yes, it is something kids do yet it is important that such moments be used as a learning opportunity.

Around the world, we have adults who hold within them many insecurities. These get embedded into them at a very young age, though small or big acts by those around them. We often neglect or brush under the carpet these simple questions because we fail to see the far-reaching consequences of their impact.

Now, my children are on the fairer side of the Indian color spectrum. Still, my son was quite curious about what makes his skin tone different from his own sister. It inspired me to finally write a book, “How Our Skin Sparkles,” as an important introduction to many who feel all Indians are of a similar skin tone. In fact, after the release of my book, some desi moms commented that the kids on the cover are not dark enough to their liking.

There are biases everywhere. People assume a certain section of people have to be of a certain skin color. People from North India should be fairer and those from South would be of a darker tone. However, skin color is an amalgamation of many aspects of science, culture and heritage.

It is not just where we come from that defines us but also our own make up. There is no set formula for how someone’s character will be.

That is what this book aims to reiterate: That people are made up of their actions, their choices, their feelings and likes. Not by the color of their skin.

It is more important now than ever that we talk to our children early about body positivity, confidence in self and inclusion.

6 Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Skin Color

1. Discuss the Science

I was surprised how few parents talked about the science behind our skin color. I am so glad that all the parents and teachers who picked up my book were happy with the way the disparities in color were portrayed and explained in detail.

2. Age-Appropriate Conversations

Every child is different. Not every child is ready to comprehend the conversation coming their way. Keep in mind the mental state of your child before you talk to them. Age 3, say if this comes up, you would start by just talking about the different skin colors within the family. Keep it simple.

3. Talk in Positive Terms

When your kids have questions or come to you with comments via people around them, remember to not put anyone down. Talk about skin color in positive terms and let your child understand why someone would have a certain bias.

4. Choose Content Consciously

Diversify your reading and content. Look for books, movies, plays, festivals that you can immerse yourself in to help your children to help them see the differences and similarities between people. This could be as difficult as looking for local festivals from other cultures or as easy as picking a multilingual show on your streaming service.

5. Recognize and Address Bias

“Oh, so and so actress has become so much fairer” or “Take care of your skin, you don’t want to go darker.” If you hear such comments, especially in the presence of your children, address them. Even if it is in the content you consume. If you notice something, point out why it is wrong to your child.

6. Consistency

Your child asks a question or makes a comment. You address it. You are not done. Kids are sponges but that does not mean that they retain everything. You need to have these conversations periodically while doing all the above.

 

...But don’t overdo it

Balance in everything. That is the key. You don’t want to be pointing out things so often that it becomes a bias or peev in itself.

Remember, identity is not defined by your skin color but it is certainly a part of us and the first impression we make on people. The first instant someone sees us, is the moment we are boxed into a category.

In a world where fair is beautiful yet dark is “exotic,” fairness creams sell like hot cakes, and kids are told their skin is the color of poop (yup! Two readers told me this about their child.), we must teach our kids how to hold their own early. To fill them with so much confidence via fact-based answers that they can stand up for themselves.


From parents to kids, every person should explore books and articles that challenge their unconscious biases. Take the time to build mindfulness around diversity and culture.

 

Author of the renowned Sparkling Me children's books and books on multicultural parenting, Aditi Wardhan Singh is an award-winning, best-selling author of seven books. She is an authoritative voice on cultural sensitivity and empowerment, passionate about diversifying dialogue around inclusion. Her upcoming works include a book of short stories for adults -WITHIN, a multicultural children’s book about belonging, and a unique bilingual Hindi-English resource for children.