There is not a single, correct way of speaking about race and racism with children. In each family, the conversation will be different. Wherever you are, here are some tips to help you start the conversation.
Why Does it Matter?
Research shows that children develop an understanding of group identity based on race at a young age, as early as 4 years old. Along with an understanding of racial categories, children absorb society’s messaging around stereotypes at a young age. Therefore, it is important to create a safe space to process their understanding of race and racism.
When families and educators stay silent about race and racism, children can get the message that racism isn’t bad, isn’t a problem, or is someone else’s problem.
How to talk to with young kids about race and racism
Be a Learner.
Learning more about this topic (through books, media, workshops, conversations with friends) will help you feel more confident speaking with your child. Acknowledge that you are on a journey and don’t know all of the answers.
Create a safe space to share feelings.
According to KidsHealth, conversations about difficult topics bring up strong emotions, like anger, sadness, confusion, and other types. Children who have experienced racism, or have family members who have experienced racism, can have stronger feelings and fears related to the topic. Let your child know that their feelings are important and OK. You can say something like, “Right now I am sad, but there is nothing wrong with that. I won’t always feel this way.” This helps children put things into perspective.
Use simple and age-appropriate words.
Issues like racial diversity and racism can be confusing for children. Meet them where they are at. For younger children, teach them to name and appreciate the differences (e.g. your cousin has brown skin and curly hair and you have white skin and straight hair; differences are normal, beautiful and make us more interesting). If your child is older, you can explore what is fair and unfair, and start explaining to them that we had and still have systems (rules) that discriminate for being different.
Be conscious all of the time, not just during a single conversation.
Think about the books, TV shows, people, and general environment surrounding your little one. Is your child surrounded by positive images that show the humanity of Black and historically marginalized communities or are they exposed to racist and stereotypical ideas and images? Choose to surround your child with messages that affirm and celebrate the humanity of all peoples.
Question and Connect.
A discussion about race and racism should not be a monologue. Help kids engage by connecting the discussion to their everyday life and asking a lot of questions (why, when, how would you feel, does that seem fair…). Listen closely to what your child tells you because they will often bring up opportunities to have rich discussions about race and racism in everyday life.
You are not alone. Having these conversations in the community makes it more powerful. Find support from organizations, other parents, books, museums, and children’s shows that are committed to raising anti-racist children. Use books to launch a conversation, tv shows to expand narrative, and museums to understand history.
Do you talk to your kids about race and racism? If you don’t, why? If you do, why?