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How to Talk to Your Kids About Racism

Jun 01, 2020
Circle of hands of different races

In light of recent events, many caregivers may find themselves struggling to talk about the concepts of race, ethnicity and racism with kids. What is discussed depends on a family’s make up and the community in which they live, but it is important for everyone to have the conversation. Remember: it is okay not to know all the answers. You can look them up and learn together!

Where Do I Start?

  • Educate yourself about race and racism. If caregivers feel uncomfortable or feel they lack knowledge about a topic, they are more likely to avoid it.
  • Read a few articles or books; watch a few documentaries or videos; or listen to podcasts about race and racism.

At What Age Should I Start Talking to My Kids About Race and Racism?

  • Caregivers should begin talking about race and racism early!
  • Kids are learning and hearing about race whether parents talk to them about it or not. As soon as 6 months of age kids are noticing skin color (just like they notice other physical differences) and by 2 to 4 years of age they are already internalizing racial bias!
  • Silence about race teaches children that they cannot talk about it and may reinforce racism later on.
  • Keep in mind their developmental level. Start by asking questions to understand what they are currently thinking, how they are feeling, and what they want to know.
  • Follow their lead. If they ask follow-up questions, they are showing you they are ready for more.
  • Caregivers can give more complex information as children mature.
  • Remember, conversations should be ongoing and should not be a one-time occurrence.

When I Talk About Race and Racism, What Should I Say?

  • The first step in talking about racism is to talk about race itself. Let kids know that there is nothing wrong with observing physical characteristics and differences. However, they want to be careful not to make negative judgements based on those differences.
  • Talk about the positive aspects of being different and the similarities in all groups (different is not weird or bad).
  • Teach them about stereotypes and remind them that not all people in one group are the same.
  • Talk about historical and institutional racism (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights and the ongoing struggle for social justice). Understanding history can help explain why certain words or statements are hurtful and why current events may be happening. Remember to highlight that racism is not a thing of the past.
  • Discuss that people are sometimes treated unfairly because of the color of their skin (kids understand fairness really well). For older kids, you can have deeper discussions about the systems that help maintain these inequalities.
  • Use tools to help engage kids in the conversation. Books are a helpful tool in engaging and explaining concepts to kids.
  • Talk about how they can make change. Topics can include being kind to all people of all backgrounds, as well as and listening to and understanding the experiences or feelings of others who are different.

What Can I DO?

  • Set an example: Have a diverse network of friends, attend diverse community events, and consume diverse media such as books, shows, movies, and videogames in your home.
  • Highlight heroes of color.
  • Have discussions about how people are represented in what you watch and challenge stereotypes.
  • Let your children see you talk to others about race by having open discussions with other adults around them.
  • Pay attention to what is trending online and what teens are exposed to.

Other Resources:

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