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Talking With Preschoolers about Privilege and Child Labor

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Talking With Preschoolers about Privilege and Child Labor

Debra Jacobs

I used to shy away from talking about the hard stuff with young children. In avoiding head-on discussions about racism, sexism, unfair labor practices, and more, I thought I was protecting innocent young minds.

Then I read the research about children absorbing and expressing bias even when they grow up in diverse communities with adults who demonstrate no overt prejudices. I learned that in order to counter bias, I need to talk explicitly with young children about race (see Make Race Explicit). 

In the same way, I no longer avoid conversations about economic inequities in the world, including child labor. Preschoolers possess an innate sense of fairness, becoming indignant when they experience injustice. Now, I use that bent towards justice to introduce topics of worker’s rights, including the proliferation of child labor around the world.

To begin countering a sense of entitlement based on privilege, sit with your child and read I Like, I Don’t Like by Anna Baccelliere. 

This picture book shows two children on each page - one of privilege and one in forced labor. A Western child building with LEGO’s likes bricks; his counterpart, who carries heavy bricks on his head, does not. One child, trying on her mom’s high heels, likes shoes; another, who works shining shoes, does not. Heartbreakingly, it ends with one child saying,“I like to play,” while another asks, “What is play?”

Talk with your child about fairness: Is it fair that one child has to work while other children get to play and go to school? 

Make sure to pair this conversation with a discussion about what people are doing to help, and more specifically, what we can do to help (by being careful about what we buy, for example, so we’re not contributing to companies that use child labor, and by contributing to or working for organizations dedicated to ending child labor practices around the world).

Let your child know that as she grows up, she can choose to join the many others working for justice.