“Repeat after me,” Yazmin’s father said as he dropped her off at preschool.“You are Black and beautiful, you are smart, you are kind, you are important, and you can do anything” Yazmin, in her tiny yet confident voice, yelled from her car seat, “I am Black and beautiful, I am smart, I am kind, I am important, and I can do anything.” These words help with building strong racial identities in Black children.
Building a positive racial identity is critical to a child’s development, particularly among Black children who face a society that amplifies anti-Blackness. Racial disparities run wide and deep and impact children at a very young age. Margaret Beale Spencer’s 2010 redo of the famous doll study highlighted that not much has changed regarding how young children have internalized messages about Black and brown kids.
Similar to the 1940’s original study led by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, children demonstrated a bias based on kids’ complexion. Both white and children of color associated negative feelings – such as bad, wrong, and ugly, with images of darker skin children. Additionally, both studies highlighted the ways that Black children internalized and expressed such negative feelings. Like studies have reinforced how vital affirmations are in supporting young Black children in building healthy racial identities that positively frame who they are.
Research demonstrates by six months, infants can notice differences in skin color, and at nine months, they can categorize faces by race. By the age of five, children associate racial characteristics with traits and stereotypes and begin to internalize messages about their race based on what they have learned from adults and people around them. Given this information, parents should take intentional measures to shape how their children view themselves positively. While we as parents have less control around how mainstream American society views young Black children, we can influence how our young Black children view themselves by engaging in the following two strategies.
Practice Daily Affirmations
Children begin to recognize differences related to race as early as six months old. Families should start early with developing a healthy racial identity in their children. One of the ways that parents can do this is through positive images and verbal descriptions about their Black infants. For instance, mirrors are often encouraged during early development as a way to support babies in exploration. Holding a mirror in front of a baby during tummy time is an age-appropriate activity usually recommended by early childhood providers. While infants are looking in the mirror, parents can use this opportunity to help develop positive affirmations. Consider naming different parts of the infant’s face positively, explicitly highlighting features, skin color, and other traits.
As your child becomes verbal, encourage them to join in as you use positive affirmations to amplify their Blackness and character. Yazmin’s father has turned daily affirmations into a family ritual. Yazmin does not leave the car to go to school without a reminder of who she is and how important she is to this world. Positive affirmations will equip your children with the language that they need to challenge mainstream society’s narratives and combat negative self-talk.
Here are five affirmations that you can use:
- I am loved and worthy
- My brown skin is beautiful
- I will do amazing things
- My curls are tight and pretty
- I am enough
Hold Schools and Classrooms Accountable
Building strong racial identities in Black children is important at school, too. Parents should confidently hold schools accountable for creating spaces for Black children that are physically and mentally safe. Consider initiating a call with your child’s school to ask the teacher or administrator about their practices in supporting young children with developing positive racial identities.
Inquire about the school’s investments in curriculum or training that will help teachers create and sustain a safe space for our children. Consider volunteering in the classroom or offering suggestions to the school regarding books, images, toys, and other materials that feature positive Black images. Finally, consider sharing with educators any daily affirmations that you use at home and providing the teacher with ideas on how to reinforce affirmations at school.
Research has shown that self-affirmations decrease anxiety and health-deteriorating stress, which is linked to positive academic achievement and an individual’s motivation to maintain a positive sense of self. Identified affirmations can become more than phrases. Affirmations can positively shape the identities of young Black children.