The way that you decide to talk to your child about race and racism will depend on your race, your child’s race, your community, and your child’s age.
And while many families may choose to talk to their children about race and racism, this conversation is less of a choice for Black families.
Where to start
Bias and racism are pervasive, you likely notice it every day (children do too), but it can be hard to know where to start the conversation. A good rule of thumb is to start early. Studies show that children can start perceiving skin color as similar or different from their own at three months old. Racial bias can begin as young as six to nine months of age.
Teaching love for heritage
There are many ways to teach your child to be proud of their heritage and background — from teaching them recipes passed down from family members, to their family history. When you take time to celebrate their background, it can instill pride and self-love, which the American Academy of Pediatrics notes is critical to a child’s feeling of self-worth.
Leaning in to hard conversions
Sharing your family history with your child can be painful, particularly for many African American families whose family histories have been fractured. But when you tackle these painful parts of your family history head-on, you teach your child that you are a source of strength and love when painful things happen in their life.
When your child has questions, listen and answer them as thoroughly as is age-appropriate. By addressing questions head-on you show your child that you’re a safe person to come to when they confront issues of racial bias or discrimination.
Make sure that your child can see their identity and experiences reflected in the books they read, the movies they watch, and the role models they interact with regularly. When children can see themselves in characters and people they admire it can instill pride and build self-esteem.
Standing up for what’s right
Whenever you can, and it feels safe to do so, stand up for those who you notice being treated differently because of their race, gender, or any other identity. This is a simple and effective way to show your child between right and wrong. Encourage them to speak up for themselves when they feel comfortable and to stand up for their peers.
By encouraging them to cultivate a sense of right and wrong and empowering them to feel confident expressing their beliefs, you’re taking steps to raise a child who will make the world a better place.
- Ashaunta Anderson and Jacqueline Dougé. “Talking to children about racial bias.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. June 25, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx.
- Dr. Bracho Sánchez. “Teaching Children Cultural and Racial Pride.” HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. September 31, 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/Pages/Teaching-Children-Cultural-and-Racial-Pride.aspx.