Every family, no matter their background, should be having conversations about race and racism. If you are unsure how to start the conversation with your kids, use these resources to help guide you – from getting the conversation started to discussing more complicated topics as they grow up or see troubling images in the media.
As a parent, you might be thinking, “What should I say to my kids about race and racism?” It can definitely feel overwhelming.
The first thing to think about is your child(ren)’s developmental level, their age. One way to quickly know what they are ready for is by asking questions such as, “What have you heard about racism?” “How are you feeling about those issues in our neighborhood/school/city?” “Where did you hear about that?” or “What do you want to know?” Try not to ask leading questions and let them share in the beginning about their current knowledge.
Kids are learning and hearing about race whether parents talk to them about it or not. As early as 6 months of age, kids can notice differences in skin color (just like they notice other physical differences), and by 2 to 4 years of age, they are already internalizing racial bias. As parents, we want to have a say in how their understanding develops around these important issues.
What to Say
The first step in talking about racism is to talk about race itself. Let kids know there is nothing wrong with observing physical characteristics and differences. However, they want to be careful not to make negative judgments based on those differences.
Give your kids only small amounts of information at a time. As adults, it’s easy to over-explain a concept, but try to give them a few sentences of information and if they ask follow-up questions, they're showing you they are ready to learn more.
If you’re talking to your kids about immigrant families, it's important to highlight the difference between ethnicity and race. For example, people from the Caribbean or Central and South America are ethnically Latino, but their race can vary, such as White, Black, Asian, Native Alaskan or Pacific Islander. Racial groups tend to include more physical factors, while ethnicity is more often associated with culture and nationality. People may identify with a specific country, culture or heritage when describing their ethnicity.
Other things to talk about are the concepts of fairness and equity. You might often hear kids say, “That’s not fair.” Discuss how fairness can sometimes mean people get different things and that racism can cause a situation to be unfair for large groups of people. Find children’s books to help explain complicated topics in story form. Follow up the books with a conversation to see what they understand.
For older kids, begin talking and reading about historical events like slavery, Jim Crow and civil rights. Understanding history helps explain why certain words or statements can be hurtful. It can also help children understand why certain current events are happening and how current situations are influenced by past events. See the resources section at the bottom of this article for websites with lists of books to read together with your children.
Actions You Can Take
- Set an example: Have a diverse network of friends, attend diverse community events and consume diverse media in your home such as books, podcasts, shows, movies and videogames.
- Highlight heroes of color you see on the news or in your local area.
- Have discussions about how people are represented in the media 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.
- Do research and learn together. Look up different ways that people of color have created change, and have been advocates and heroes.
The world has been experiencing many different emotions around current civil rights events, and while parents are managing their own stress, they aren’t sure if they should also talk with their kids about it. Our experts say, kids from all backgrounds are aware, paying attention and thinking about these current events happening in our community. Although their family’s make up and neighborhood they live in may differ, these events are affecting their emotions in one way or another. Here are ways to help you talk to your kids about race and racism.