As Kim West prepared for the arrival of her first daughter nine years-ago, she recalls walking through a bookstore and the disappointing realization that came to her.
"I was looking in the children's section, and I couldn’t find any books that had little black girls or little black boys doing everyday things."
There were the typical books on historical prominent figures, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but Kim knew her needs, and the needs of her daughter, would be so much more than what this small section offered.
"What I was really looking for were books in which black children were going to the park, just doing everyday things - I recognized my child was going to experience the same thing I did growing up. I always felt like I wasn't fully Canadian, that I didn't belong here."
It was that moment that a seed was planted which led Kim to found Kids Swag, a site and online marketplace that has a mission of helping parents raise confident kids that love themselves and appreciate difference. Kids Swag partners with amazing brands that embody their core principle: Mindful Representation.
What exactly is Mindful Representation? “It’s all about being intentional about the images and experiences that your child engages in to gain a greater sense of self and an appreciation of others”, says Kim.
How do you ensure that you aren't just telling or showing one story constantly to the people you love? Mindful Representation is about making sure you're always aware of what's going on in the world around you.
As a first step to being intentional about the representation in your own life, Kim suggests taking an audit of your home. This includes the toys your child has, the tv shows and movies they watch, the books they read etc. The idea is to note who and what is being represented and does it only reflect your family instead of the diversity of our world?
"The biggest thing I came up with was a call to action, which was the Book and Toy Audit. This involves going through what you have in your own collection for your children and taking note of what groups are represented and what stories are being told through these products. If you feel like they're giving your child only one sense of the world - that's your first step."
Check out Kids Swag’s guide on how you can diversify your child’s toy and book collection here. It includes some great tips on how you can get started, as well as a comprehensive guide on products you can introduce to your children to encourage Mindful Representation at any age.
Kim also emphasizes the importance of meaningful interaction with others that look or act differently from your family, in order to normalize different cultures.
“Start off with images, ensuring that your child's world is a beautiful mix of many cultures. You want to ensure your child is constantly being enriched with a number of different types of images, so it doesn't feel odd, and that they have an opportunity to engage with different types of people."
Some easy ways to do this? Broaden your own horizons and engage with other cultures - follow diverse accounts on social media, seek out cultural groups in your own community, participate in activities that include people who have different experiences than your own. This gives your children the tools to look beyond what someone looks like and focus on what that person is about.
It’s after you’ve taken these initials steps that Kim believes the conversation about race with your children begins.
“It's important that children are aware of the realities of our world, and the reality is that there is still inequality, there still are people who are judged solely based on colour and those who believe that people who are different from us deserve to be discriminated against.”
The takeaway, according to Kim, is to remember this isn’t a conversation that happens once. It’s important to continue to build on the foundation you’ve set. If your children are able to stop and think about why these inequalities are happening, the conversation on how we can do better will continue naturally.
"If you're not being proactive and ensuring that your child is able to appreciate and celebrate differences, you're on a slippery slope of them being complicit or active in racism."
Check out Kids Swag’s guide on the best way to talk to your children about race here. This guide provides helpful tips, as well as conversation starters broken down by age group, to help broach the topic of race with your own children.
Kim also shared a few of her favourite products, all available on the Kids Swag site that encourage the idea of Mindful Representation:
1) Very Puzzled Puzzles - “A beautiful collection of puzzles of different countries with a large black population. It also includes a map of Africa and the Caribbean.”
2) Nana Dolls - “These beautiful dolls wear different African print dresses and represent Queens from different countries including South Africa and Jamaica.”
3) Nia Ballerina Collection - “This is one of the first products I carried, and I felt so special when I opened up their signature Jewelry Box. It has been a favorite from the very beginning!”
4) Different is Good Tee - “A new addition to a store in 2020. These tees embody the brand promise of Kids Swag - Confident Kids that Appreciate Difference.”
5) Swimma Caps - “Our #1 seller prior to Covid. These caps encourage inclusiveness in swimming. The top reason black girls and women don't swim is to protect their hair. This is a swimma cap that actually fits!”
A few of Kim’s other go-to resources include:
Big Life Journal - Science-based journals to raise confident, happy kids.
Trailblazers - A new book that introduces readers to Canada’s Black history through the under-told stories of over forty incredible Black change makers.
Are your kids too young to talk about race - A guide, by @TheConciousKid, on the importance of diverse images in children’s lives.
Black Moms Blog and Black Moms Connection - Two Facebook groups that support Black women in navigating parenthood, while providing an opportunity to network and share.
To watch our full conversation on KHC live with Kim, hit play now or watch over on the mini mioche Instagram page!
Want to learn more? Check out Kids Swag’s website: https://kidsswag.ca/
Follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kidsswagco/
Like them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kidsswagco/
Read their Tweets: https://www.twitter.com/kidsswagco/
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