Racism is an ongoing issue that’s ever-present, especially in American history. It’s a troubling topic that can be extremely overwhelming, for both kids and adults.
As a parent, it might be difficult to know what to say to your children. You want to shield them, but also don’t want them to be uninformed or get their information from sources you don’t trust.
We understand, and we want to help you have these conversations as best you can.
Here are eight tips for talking to your kids about racism.
1. Acknowledge your privilege
For White parents, thinking about these conversations can be nerve-wracking.
But Black parents don’t have the option to deliberate on whether they should approach these topics. Teaching about racism from the start is a necessary part of raising children, to protect their safety as much as possible.
So while it might feel daunting, recognize the position you’re able to speak to your kids from and work to understand what it means to have privilege in different situations.
As Author Robin J. DiAngelo explains, “White privilege is the automatic, taken-for-granted advantage bestowed upon white people as a result of living in a society based on the premise of white as the human ideal, and that from its founding established white advantage as a matter of law and today as a matter of policy and practice.”
When you’ve acknowledged your privilege, you’ll be better equipped to explain issues surrounding race to your child in a way they can understand.
2. Educate yourself first
Make sure you’re well informed on the topic of racism before you start a conversation with your child about it.
When you’re armed with knowledge, you’ll feel more confident having these discussions.
Not only will you be better able to explain the topic and answer questions, but your confidence will also help your child feel more comfortable with what they’re hearing.
3. Communicate openly with kids
It’s true that these conversations can be difficult, but children often notice and understand a lot more than you think.
Avoiding or watering down the topic won’t help your child. In fact, it might make it more likely that they go looking for information from sources that aren’t age-appropriate.
This doesn’t mean you have to be completely candid — there are ways to present the truth without giving your child all the information about violent or disturbing current events.
For example, when talking about police brutality, you might want to explain how police systematically treat Black people unfairly, and talk about victims without detailing their exact situations.
To openly communicate about race and racism, make sure you:
- Don’t avoid kids’ questions — Try to answer them as honestly as you can.
- Make conversations age-appropriate — Decide what’s right for their age and maturity level. Use more positive language for younger children and more transparency for older children.
- Admit that you don’t have all the answers — If your child asks a question you’re not sure about, commit to learning more together.
4. Make race an ongoing conversation
Current events shouldn’t be the only entry into these conversations.
The best way to help your child understand issues surrounding racism is to talk about it as often as you can.
Teach your child about how and where racism shows up. Talk about how we might unknowingly exhibit prejudice in our daily lives. Help them spot injustices — even small ones — and encourage them to make an effort to be anti-racist.
Speak often about topics like:
- Black history
- White privilege
- Police brutality
- Racial profiling
- Racial inequality
- The history of racism
It’s also important to speak about race in a positive way. Teach your child that our differences are a good thing. Don’t teach them to be “colorblind” — it’s not wrong to acknowledge that we’re all different.
If your child makes a judgement about someone else based on their race (or any other differences), use that moment to start a conversation about it. Ask them why they thought the way they did, then work to deconstruct this judgement.
5. Acknowledge their feelings
Whether your child is directly affected or not, these topics are serious. They are tragic, scary and can cause anxiety for many adults, let alone children.
Ensure your child doesn’t go through these feelings alone. Acknowledge them, validate them, then talk through them.
For example, your child might feel concern for their black peers when they learn about racial injustices. In this situation, tell them you understand why they feel this way. Talk about how they can work on being an ally to their friends and classmates.
6. Try to limit media exposure
Talking about racism is the first step. The more they learn from you, the less they have to figure out for themselves.
But kids are also often exposed to these topics on their own, and may hear or see things we don’t want them to.
Use your best judgement to show them media that can teach them about these topics, while limiting their exposure to the violent content that can cause lasting anxiety for them.
7. Provide resources
A great way to limit negative media exposure is to expose your child to age-appropriate resources.
Help further their knowledge with books, movies and videos on these topics.
- List of children’s books for talking about race with young children
- List of diverse children’s books and where to find them
- Anti-Racism Resources for Parents and Kids
Remember that you don’t have to carry these conversations all by yourself. Leverage Black voices as much as you can to help you and your child learn more.
8. Lead by example
We know children learn a lot from modeling their parents’ behavior. That’s why one of the best ways to teach your child about racism is to take action against racism yourself.
Show your child what it means to be an ally. Support Black people and People of Color in your community. Surround yourself with a diverse group of friends and peers. Diversify your media at home.
Serve as a role model and make an effort to walk the walk in your daily life.
Additional resources for you
Want to keep learning to better support your child on this topic? Here are some extra resources to help you in your journey.
To stay informed on racism and racial issues
- Black Lives Matter
- Anti-Racist Resources — Fortune
- Anti-Racist Resource Guide — Victoria Alexander, MEd
- Anti-Racism Resources for White People — Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein
- The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas
- Me and White Supremacy — Layla F. Saad
- This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work — Tiffany Jewell
- 13TH — Netflix
- The Color of Fear
- Understanding Black Stories — Cineplex (free movies available online)
- Code Switch — NPR
- Yo, is this racist? — Earwolf
- 1619 — The New York Times
- Pod Save The People — Crooked Media
To help you talk to your children
- Talking Race With Young Children — NPR
- Talking to kids about race — National Geographic
- How to talk to your children about protests and racism — CNN
- Raising an ally: How to talk to your child about the death of George Floyd, anti-Black racism — Global News
- Teaching Tolerance: How white parents should talk to their young kids about race — Slate
- Talking With Children About Racism, Police Brutality and Protests — Aha! Parenting
- 100 Race-Conscious Things You Can Say to Your Child to Advance Racial Justice — Raising Race Conscious Children
- What is RES? Defining Racial and Ethnic Socialization (RES) — American Psychological Association
To support current causes
- Ways To Help
- The Bail Project
- Black Lives Matter Petitions
- Riot Safety & Black History master list
- Petition for George Floyd — #wecantBREATHE
- Petition: Justice for George Floyd — Change.org
- Petition: Justice for Belly Mujinga — Change.org
- Petition: Justice for Breonna Taylor — Change.org
- Petition: Justice for Ahmaud Arbery — Change.org
- Video: how to financially help BLM with NO MONEY
Accounts to follow
- Black Lives Matter
- Rachel Cargle
- Color of Change
- Good Good Good
- Strong Black Lead
- Check Your Privilege
- 8 Educational Black Voices To Listen And Learn From Now — Vogue
- 9 Powerful Black Female Voices to Follow on Instagram to Be Better Allies and Proactively Anti-Racist — Create & Cultivate
Have any additional resources or insights we should share? Start a conversation with us in the comments below.