Recently while at a local toddlers’ play group I volunteer at, a fight ensued between 2 little girls over a doll they each wanted to play with. It was a little blonde-blue eyed doll. To try and ease the tension, I offered an alternative ‘coloured’ doll that was lying on the floor nearby to one of the girls. She immediately grabbed it, looked at it and threw it away with an ‘I don’t like that doll protest’. ”Fair enough, I thought to myself, ”we all have preferences”
I then took the rejected doll and offered it to the other girl she was fighting with. I watched as this other girl’s face lit up, she took the doll from me and gave it the biggest cuddle, immediately walking away with a satisfied grin. In the end, the brief doll fight was over, each girl walked away with a doll they liked for that moment. Coincidentally, on this occasion, it happened to be the doll that looked a bit more like each of them respectively.
I found it very tempting to conclude that these 2 pre-preschoolers’ choices were motivated by some deep rooted but unidentified form of colour prejudice.
However, being an average parent of a pre-preschooler, I am drawn to believe that no matter what background a child comes from, if there is a well balanced exposure and education going on at home, our children are not primarily prejudiced. The reason a child may pick a doll or identify with a character may sometimes just be a thing of familiarity rather than prejudice, and this preference can change from one minute to another. However, I will leave the exploration of this fact to any of my clever childhood psychologists out there…
But, there is certainly something to be said about creating toys, books and everyday experiences that inspire children from all backgrounds.
Following this episode, I was reminded of an article I read recently of how limited children’s stories with non-white characters are in the UK, and how this may hinder children from British non-white backgrounds from forming a love for reading. I thought of how I often struggle to get decent ”ethnic” doll presents on-line for my friends’ kids.
Something tells me that the closer in likeness to us an image appears, the more strongly we are likely to identify with it. Our heroes and heroines are people we feel we have something in common with; whether intellectual, social, physical, spiritual etc. And if we can connect to a character on more than one of these realms, the stronger our connection to that character would feel.
Therefore if children can be exposed to a variety of learning resources, toys, people and multicultural everyday experiences, it does not only help the children from minority back grounds develop a strong sense of self and connection to their everyday world, but it it also opens up all children’s worlds to the fact that different is al right.
However, I unfortunately find that my 3 year old son can sometimes strongly identify with stories illustrating ‘boy’ characters and readily points at similar looking heroic characters saying…”Mummy is that me”? Two minutes later he is convinced he is Buzz Light Year.
Just like my 3 year old, when exposed to images or characters in a story, a movie or in real life, I ask myself the same question; (is that me?), maybe just not in those very words. My bias often has nothing to do with race, but my ability to draw that which is familiar and similar to an image, whether real of fantasy.
So my conclusion would be that: Similarity and familiarity can be powerful in inspiring us to connect, but difference does not hinder us from connecting either.
Have you come across any interesting ways in which children identify with their fantasy or reality character favourites?
Let’s share and learn.