Kids and Racism: How to Start the Conversation
By Jazmin Stearne
We are living in a time where racial injustice and insensitivity placate everything from politics, to Hollywood, to the playground. Kids are more aware of racial injustice than we might realize. For instance, studies have shown that children tend to notice racial differences as early as six months of age. By age four, they are old enough to form racial biases. Also, by age four, kids have a sense of what is considered fair and unfair. In other words, it is easier for them to determine right from wrong at this age. By the time they start kindergarten they are taught to treat others the way they want to be treated. Kids are very perceptive to their environments and are very smart. How can we get a positive conversation started with our kids, about race? As you can imagine, it’s important for them to understand what it means to be agents for change. Here are six tips to help you get the conversation started.
1. Start sooner rather than later
As mentioned above, children can notice racial differences as early as six months of age. According to research, kids begin to display racial biases as early as age four. Let your child know that it is okay to notice differences in skin color. Kids begin to socialize and make friends at this age. As you may already know, children this young are very curious about the world around them and the people they encounter. Assure them it’s okay to notice skin color; start talking to them about racial differences and what they mean (and also, what they don’t mean).
Next, expose your child to different cultural activities—attend a cultural event in your community, if possible. Another good idea would be to show them different books or photographs. Discuss the experience with him or her. Please remember this: you do not have to be an expert on race to have an open discussion with your kids. If they ask you a question you don’t know, be honest. You can then work with them to find the accurate answer to their question.
3. Incorporate diversity in your own life
You are their role model. Of course, the things you say to them are important, but also—think about the behaviors you are modeling. Sure, you want your kids to have a diverse group of friends—but first, you might want to look at your own friendship circle. If it isn’t diverse, then maybe you should incorporate more diversity in your own social life. This is likely to have a big impact. Do your kids attend diverse schools? If not, consider signing them up for any after school programs, sports teams, etc. You can also choose books and toys for them to play with that have characters of different races and ethnicities. When my sister and I were little, the toys we played with were very diverse. It was the same for our books. I had dolls that were of different ethnicities as well as various books with characters of different races/ethnicities. I remember those books to this day.
4. Admit your own bias
This can be difficult to do in front of your children. However, it lets them know that you’ve faced your own biases and/or prejudices in life, and you overcame them. Tell your kids about a time you felt biased towards a culture or race. Share with them the things you did to overcome that bias. Lastly, tell them what you did to confront this bias.
5. Teach them to love who they are
Talk about your own family history. Share stories about your own culture or race; acknowledge your culture’s contributions to society in addition to the less flattering aspects of those stories. Tell your kids to be proud of who they are and where they came from. This is also a good time to share stories of different family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) and how they overcame the challenges faced in their lifetimes.
6. Tell Stories
Lastly, you want to tell them stories of resilience and resistance. Tell your children stories of racial oppression. These stories are examples of “speaking truth to power” and will teach them to appreciate the resiliency of these historical figures. When you tell them these stories, be sure to include women and other minorities too (i.e. children & young people). According to MomsRising.org, “A story about racial struggle in which all the heroes are men wrongly leaves many people out.”
As mentioned above, children are great observers. They are adept at noticing patterns too (i.e. who lives in their neighborhood vs. their friend’s neighborhood). They will have questions for you. It is ok to be honest with them. Tell them that racial unfairness is still happening, and bigotry and oppression are sometimes a big part of that problem. Talk to them about ways they can implement change. Continue to have these conversations about race and if you can, make them routine. If your child asks you something and you don’t know the answer, be honest. Tell them you will come back to the question later, then keep your word.
The professionals at Core3 value cultural diversity. If you or your child needs counseling, give our office a call. (888) 203-0113. We will be happy to assist you in your wellness journey.
10 tips for teaching and talking to kids about race. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.embracerace.org/resources/teaching-and-talking-to-kids