Q: Our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter started preschool this year. She is biracial (Caucasian/East Indian). The other day, a classmate put her arm next to my daughter’s and asked why she was “that color.” How might our daughter have answered, and how can we prepare her for any other questions that come her way about her skin color?
A: Preschoolers are curious and uninhibited, which led to this classmate asking your daughter questions about her skin color. You’ll want to enlist the teacher’s help early in the school year, so that your daughter doesn’t have to face questions entirely on her own in the future.
You might put together a selection of age-appropriate books, such as We’re Different, We’re the Same, by Bobbi Kates, or The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz, to donate to the classroom. Volunteer to read one of them and discuss it with the class, to get them talking about race in an open, positive way.
Children this age benefit from books that explain that people whose ancestors originated in different parts of the world look different, with variations in hair and skin color, nose shape, and so on. This is the age when children should be encouraged to notice and accept (not ignore) differences in a non-judgmental way.
You’ll also want to arm your daughter with simple answers to questions about her skin color. She might respond, for example, “I am this color because I’m part Indian.” There’s no need to explain in any detail beyond that.