5 Tips on Talking to Your Kids About Race and Racism

In honor of Black History Month and in light of yet another tragedy, we believe it is important that we do not shy away from talking about issues related to race and racism. We recognize it might feel especially hard to know where to start or how to go about handling conversations with your children. To assist you, we have compiled a list of resources to help you talk to your children about equality, diversity, and inclusion. This is not a comprehensive guide; however, the following 5 recommendations are a start: 

  1. Your own education is never done: Actively examine your own biases. Without active effort towards reflection and education, it can be easy to overlook the impact of your own beliefs, biases and understandings of race and racism. Your lived experiences, levels of privilege, and how you interpret current events can influence the way you talk to your children about these topics. Take time to educate yourself and reflect on your own biases and beliefs. We all have those, but it takes courage to acknowledge and actively seek to combat them. You are not expected to be an expert; however, it is your responsibility to get informed.
  2. Be a good role model. Just like language, prejudice is learned over time. What your children see you do is just as important as what they hear you say. As children grow older, they begin to reflect the views and behaviors of the people who mean the most to them. Often, looking to family members, teachers, or coaches for guidance and direction. Social media are another source children may look to for information. This may require supervision to limit exposure to what your child is able to view in the media to reduce fears and anxiety for your child. It is important to make every effort to challenge racism, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  3. Difficult topics breed avoidance. Be proactive in encouraging questions and open communication. It is natural for your child to have questions about race, skin color, or other differences they notice. As a parent, if you are feeling uneasy talking about race, your child will likely learn to avoid bringing it up as well. If your child makes comments or asks questions about race, follow up with questions such as, “How do you feel about that?” and “Why do you think that?” Before responding, try to learn and understand where your child’s opinions or concerns came from and what they mean from your child’s perspective.
  4. Talk about race and racism in age-appropriate ways. As early as age 4 or 5, children may begin to notice and point out differences they observe in the people around them. This can be an opportunity to lay the foundation by highlighting concepts of fairness, equality, and inclusion. Children between the ages of 6 and 11 are typically better able to talk about their feelings and are actively seeking answers. This is a critical period to encourage open and direct dialogue with your child. Doing so establishes trust and allows you to correct misinformation that may come up during discussions. For kids 12 years of age and above, you will notice that they are likely more aware and understanding of higher-level concepts such as race and diversity. It is beneficial to remain curious with them and keep the conversation going to encourage healthy dialogue about the topic.
  5. Actively seek out exposing your child to diversity. Introducing your child to diverse cultures and people from different backgrounds creates space for positive interactions early on. This can decrease prejudice and the formation of unconscious biases or stereotypical thinking of other cultural groups. You can actively explore foods from other cultures, joining diverse social groups, engaging in community activism, reading stories, and watching a wide range of films that feature and celebrate diversity.

Additional Resources

While our list is not exhaustive, we have provided some additional resources for you and your family to learn more tips and strategies to talk with your children and encourage open dialogue about topics such as race and diversity. Find more information using the following links:

Author: Dr. Korey Abbriano

Dr. Korey Abbriano earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Dr. Abbriano has written articles, served on the board of numerous mental health organizations, and has volunteered with the Crisis Text Line, providing free mental health and crisis intervention services through text messaging service to individuals of all ages. As a postdoctoral fellow at STEPS, she is committed to providing a space for individuals to find meaning and begin to live a life that aligns one closer with their values.

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