How to Talk to Young Children About Race

How to Talk to Young Children About Race: A Starting Point

The news is rife with conversations about race and racism in the U.S., whether you are clicking past CNN’s headlines, perusing the top stories in the Washington Post, or even viewing your Facebook feed. Just as common of pictures of new babies and family vacations are viewpoints and articles on race in our country. If you’re hearing these conversations, your children may be hearing bits and pieces as well. As they get older, your kids will become more curious about race, and it’s a good idea to let them know that your home is a space where they can freely process their thoughts about racial differences and confusing messages on race they may hear from others or on the news. This is the best way to make sure that these conversations start at home, where you can pass on your views to your children. Plus, experts have come to the consensus that raising kids who are “colorblind” is actually not a healthy way for them to develop their feelings about race or racism. Recognizing and celebrating difference is a better way to help them navigate their feelings on race.

Are you wondering where to start? It may be easiest to casually make note of the racial differences between characters in books, the way we might talk about their favorite things to do or hair color. You don’t need to make a habit of it, but by occasionally remarking that a character is black, Asian, white, or Latino, and moving on, you’ll let your kid know that, yes, you see that people are different, too, and it’s OK to talk about it together. The Snowy Day, Seven Chinese Sisters, and The Skin You Live In contain excellent depictions of diversity, and are fun for young kids to read.

As your child’s curiosity develops, you may want to consider having a proactive conversation or two about race. On the most basic of levels, your child may have noticed that a child at preschool looks different from them, and it’s OK to say, “Did you know that Hannah’s mom is white and her dad is Chinese-American? Her mom told me that their family celebrates the New Year on January 1st, and also the Chinese New Year. Do you want to learn more about the Chinese New Year?” When you notice your child picking up on more complex issues, such as the recent rallies in Charlottesville, a sensitive introduction to the topic of racism may be a good idea. It’s helpful for kids to learn values from their parents, instead of picking up a few bits of pieces of information from different sources and not knowing how to interpret it all. Something as simple as explaining that some people do not like others who are of a different race from them, and telling your kids that it’s best to celebrate differences and be kind to others who are different from them, can go a long way in helping her understand what she is hearing.

You’ll also want to get ready for reactive conversations; you know, the ones in which your child comes home and blindsides you with a tough question. The best way to handle these is to first think about your own perspective on race and racism. What are your feelings about what you see on the news? How would you take those feelings and temper them so that they are easier for a child to understand? Going through this process will make answering questions much easier.

Have you had any conversations about race with your family? How did they go? Let us know if you have found any tactics or resources that have worked for you in the comments section.

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