“We’re rich!” a DIY workshop

15 May

Imagine that a child–yours, or one who’s in your care–makes this declaration loudly one day as you’re driving the carpool, chaperoning a field trip or playing at the park:

“We’re rich!”

1. What’s your gut response? (The unfiltered, internal reaction that you wouldn’t necessarily share with the child, but that races through your heart or head involuntarily.)

2. What could this be about? Why might the child have said this?

Here, I’ll offer a few notes from research (Bisson et al.) on children’s developing awareness of socioeconomic and class identity and diversity. What this research provides is a reference for how children’s socioeconomic and class attitudes and identities develop (because they do, whether or not we say anything explicitly). While these notes may not describe your child’s own specific development, they do trace an arc of growth from noticing to making meaning of differences, with evolving cognitive, affective and moral tools. As always, consider what resonates and is useful to you:

  • As toddlers, it’s normative for children to demonstrate a bias for “rich” people as being not only happier, but more likeable. Perhaps that’s why at ages 3-4, they tend to believe the rich should share with the poor.
  • Starting in preschool, kids begin to connect money with jobs and develop an understanding of the different statuses and incomes for different jobs. They describe wealth concretely—in terms of the amount of one’s possessions, or the type of home one has—in early primary grades.
  • By 10, children still advocate for sharing wealth, although they begin to justify different socioeconomic circumstances with concepts like “motivation” (i.e. if they worked harder, they could make more money).
  • It’s notable that during the middle grade years, children develop a social perspective of race and ethnicity, meaning that they understand societal dynamics and socioeconomic patterns across and within racial and ethnic groups. As they are making these connections and beginning to recognize how group identities impact individual experience, adolescents demonstrate a tendency to accept socioeconomic inequality, explaining disparities with concepts like merit (ex. people are poor because they don’t work hard enough), even though they understand structural, systemic inequities.

What I find appreciate about this research is the opportunities it identifies for us to proactively and developmentally supportively engage kids about the complicated topic of money and identity, with an understanding of what attitudes and inclinations are normative for us to develop as we come to recognize that we are not equal.


3. What might you say in response? Give it a shot. Grab someone to role play with or just try it on your own. I find it helps to say what you think you have to say aloud, so you can hear it and get some practice in before you’re driving the carpool one day, and a child–maybe yours–in the back says something that you’re just not sure how to respond to.

This isn’t to guarantee you’ll have the perfect, wisest words in this or any other situation where your child is exploring identity and diversity. And you don’t need to. This is just to practice and notice what you yourself have to explore.

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