Racism is a tough topic, but it’s an important one to address with your kids in order to raise racially aware children who will identify with others and help to create a better world. Silence is often the norm when it comes to conversations about race—especially among white families. Often this stems from a well-meaning attempt to promote a “colorblind” society—one where the color of a person’s skin is completely irrelevant. But as recent events have shown us, we’re not there yet. Because of this, it’s important to help children identify racism, understand that it’s wrong, and know how to combat it.
The conversation about racism is one that should happen early—as soon as your child starts to notice differences between themselves and others, or as soon as they start hearing about or being exposed to racism at school or through the media. Children often pick up on racial differences before parents start thinking about it, so be proactive in addressing this issue with your child.
Realize that this conversation isn’t a one-off. Racism keeps coming up in the world, so it needs to keep coming up in your conversations with your children. Talk about racism regularly to help them identify what ideas they’re being exposed to and learn how to think critically about those ideas.
Adjust how you talk about race and racism depending on your child’s age and developmental stage of life.
• Books and toys are a great way to introduce the topic to toddlers, as are discussions about fairness, a concept that’s understandable and relevant to kids at this age.
• As kids move into elementary school, ask them what they’re hearing on the playground and encourage them to articulate what they feel about it. Conversations at this age don’t need to be long or complex. Simple language and keeping it relevant to their experiences is still best.
• When kids reach middle and high school, they might be ready for more in-depth conversations, and be able to think more abstractly—extrapolating their own experiences to those they hear about in the larger community and the world. At this age, you can also encourage them to take the lead in the discussion.
Talking with kids about racism isn’t always easy or comfortable, but doing so is needed to show them that racism is a real and important issue, and that they have the power to fight it. As you talk with your kids about racism, know that you’re giving them the tools they need to navigate a biased world and make it a better place.
Want to learn more? Here are some resources to help you learn more about racism yourself and help you know what to say to your kids about this topic: