By Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn, Ed.D.
Children don't come pre-equipped with reactions to each new experience in their lives. When children are hurt by racial or ethnic cruelty, it is hard to restrain an immediate emotional response. It's important, however, to try to comfort and explain instead of reacting angrily.
Families of color have an especially difficult job. They must raise their children to be free of prejudice while helping them to develop a positive identity in the face of prejudice. A family lifestyle that reflects confidence and self-respect is the key ingredient here. [As a nanny or au pair you play an important role in helping the parents achieve this goal].
Parents who show their children a sense of their pride in ordinary day-to-day living -- without shielding their children from racial realities -- have an easier task. Whether a family is Latino, or Asian American, African American, or Native American, their kids' books, dolls, and other toys should be multiracial. Children of color, just like Caucasian children, should have toys to play with that reflect all races and ethnicities, including their own.
[If your charge] is called an ugly name, for instance, it's a great temptation to fly into a blind rage. But what the child needs from you is reassurance that she is a good person and that people who call her such names are not nice people. At the same time, she needs to know that all people of that particular group don't act this way, and that there are good and bad people of all ethnic groups and races.
Children need encouragement to be assertive in these situations, at least saying to the name-caller, "I don't like you calling me bad names and I want you to stop."
And it's important to stress that talking out a problem is always the thing to try first. If a situation gets out of hand, a parent may need to intervene -- and the child needs to know that you are ready to back her up -- but children should be encouraged to initially try to handle these difficulties themselves.
Then, if a similar incident occurs again, they will be better able to deal with it. Whatever the problem, however, parents of color need to ensure that their children develop coping mechanisms that don't compromise their children's dignity.
Tomorrow on the Be the Best Nanny Newsletter blog: Weekly Trip to the Library -- Books About Teaching Tolerance