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5 Ways to Teach Your Toddler to Not Be a Judgmental Jerk

As white parents, it's important that my husband and I help our daughter become a racially sensitive and inclusive advocate, someone who is aware of both her own inherent privileges and the social injustices taking place in our communities. This goes for other forms of discrimination, too—those relating to gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation. (And yes, that we even have the option to talk about race and discrimination with our child is definitely a privilege itself.)

Opening dialogues about intolerance with children from an early age is critical. Not only because kids as young as 3 will embrace and mimic discriminatory behaviors if that's what's they see, but because toddlers actually begin to innately assign meaning to racial and ethnic differences even if discrimination isn't being modeled.

Beyond living in a diverse neighborhood and frequenting play spaces that support diversity, here are five ways we're teaching our 3-year-old how to practice inclusivity and empathy:

RELATED: 11 Books to Help Encourage Empathy in Your Kid

1. We don't make value-judgments about how someone looks, but we also aren't colorblind.

How people are dressed, their weight, their ethnicity, their gender presentation or any other aspect of their appearance isn't open to our interpretations or assumptions. But we don't opt for invisibility either. To pretend we're color- or race-blind is a form of erasure, not to mention the ethnocentricity involved in choosing to see all others as the same as us. Sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield explains that "the refusal to take public note of race actually allows people to ignore manifestations of persistent discrimination," so we use neutral and/or positive observations to talk regularly with our daughter about people's differences, both to appreciate them and to acknowledge that sometimes these differences require sensitivity or care.

It isn't enough to discuss tolerance or simply stand as an ally.

2. We give Goldilocks two mommies.

The story of Goldilocks is a longstanding favorite in our house and, through our daughter's repeated requests to "tell it longer," has grown to include some off-script details. When Goldilocks calls home to ask permission for a sleepover, she talks to her two mommies, who tell her to have a great time and to thank the bears for sharing their porridge. (We'll save the slightly less-bestie Grimms' version for when she's a little older.)

Though we make strides every year, homophobia and homosexism are still rampant in the U.S. We see this in the sustained invisibility of LGBT individuals and in more alarming acts of discrimination and physical violence. Promoting a culture in which all forms of orientation and gender identity or expression are normalized starts with talking at home about the many ways a family can look, and then in reinforcing those concepts while creating a safe learning environment as part of inclusive and anti-bias curricula at schools and within our communities.

3. We watch TV shows (and read books) featuring families that look different from ours.

"Daniel Tiger," "Doc McStuffins," "Nina's World," "Dora the Explorer," plus books like "Rad American Women A–Z"—we're a fan of them all. Besides these, there are an increasing number of other great shows that include kids with disabilities, feature girls (and especially girls of color) in roles traditionally viewed as male-dominated and offer alternatives to the nuclear family structure. As Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Junot Diaz notes, it's important that ALL children have opportunities to regularly see themselves represented in media, in order to not "deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."

4. We include our daughter in activities that support marginalized members of our community.

Recently an Islamic Center in our city was vandalized during a hate crime. The Masjid is already a beautiful illustration of inclusivity in its mission to "provide a diverse, cosmopolitan milieu where everyone is welcome regardless of ethnicity, language or cultural heritage," and the outpouring of care from the community following its defacement was astounding—close to 1,000 people were present for the clean-up effort. On the drive over, I talked to our daughter in an age-appropriate way about what had happened and what it means to offer support and to help others feel safe when something bad happens to them.

5. We buy baby dolls with ethnicities besides our own.

There are approximately one zillion benefits to playing with dolls, including development of toddlers' cognitive, speech-language, fine motor and social-emotional skills. By providing our daughter with opportunities to engage in imaginative play with dolls that represent multiple ethnicities, we're reinforcing a healthy racial identity that doesn't center on an assumed superiority of whiteness.

RELATED: Why Are We So Afraid to Talk About Race?

It isn't enough to discuss tolerance or simply stand as an ally, of course—this is only the baseline, and there are many other things to be doing beyond this brief list. To meaningfully advocate for those who are marginalized requires continued engagement with empathy and the ability to make space again and again at the table even when that means giving up our own seat. It's challenging and often uncomfortable and something I still get wrong plenty of times. But for our toddler, this starts with us—her parents—being intentional in how we talk about and model inclusivity in our daily actions.

Photograph by: Kirsten Clodfelter

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