9 Ways to Talk to Kids About Racism
The graphic and disturbing video of George Floyd’s death brought a topic long swept under the rug out into the light. Systemic racism is a persistent problem in the United States. For too long, many Americans have turned a blind eye to the issue. Perhaps worse still, many have turned a deaf ear when people of color share their experiences. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Change is long overdue.
Even adults who actively abhor racism may still harbor racist assumptions or behaviors ingrained in them from society. We all have to take a hard look at ourselves and find ways to be better. But luckily, children have a fresh start. Children enter the world without bias and without hate, and parents can help them stay that way.
Broaching the topic of racism may seem challenging, but it is so important. These tips can make it a little easier.
Assess What They Already Know
Many children have already learned about racism in school. Asking your child what they know will give you a better idea of what they know and what they may still need to learn. Additionally, asking your child what they know is an easy first step towards opening a dialogue.
Discuss and Value Differences
Kids often notice physical differences between people. They see different skin colors, different hair colors, different eye colors, different heights, and different weights. Unless they’ve been taught otherwise, they do not judge people for these differences. However, you can also reinforce with your children how differences between people enrich the world by bringing different perspectives.
Emphasize Compassion and Respect
Compassion and respect are some of the most powerful tools any child could have. Help your child cultivate these skills by reinforcing the need to treat everyone well, listen to what they have to say, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Admit What You Don’t Know
No one is perfect. Rather than guessing or trying to look like an expert, just admit what you don’t know and help your child find resources that better answer their questions. Not only will this give them better information, but it will also show them that they don’t have to have all the answers, either. Being open to learning is valuable. If you’re ready to learn more, check out the Anti-Racism Project‘s list of resources to learn more.
Expose Your Children to Others from Diverse Backgrounds
Exposure to people from different backgrounds is one of the easiest ways to teach kids to be accepting. When kids only spend time with people with similar backgrounds to their own, those from other backgrounds may seem like outsiders. But interacting with people from different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and religions highlights our shared humanity.
Use Outside Resources
You don’t have to go it alone! There are already lots of resources for teaching kids about racism. The Center for Racial Justice in Education maintains an epic list of resources and learning materials. Teaching Tolerance also has lots of great resources.
Supplement the History Taught in School
The lessons taught in school frequently gloss over the accomplishments of people of color, effectively whitewashing history. Supplementing your child’s education by teaching them more about the history of underrepresented groups can give them a more balanced perspective. This web portal from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration has lots of resources.
Plan On Having Follow-Up Conversations
Racism is an important topic, so one conversation isn’t enough. Expect to have follow-up talks. If your family watches the news together, it provides ample opportunities to talk about racism. You might also bring up the topic when you watch movies or TV shows that address issues related to race.
Listen to what your children have to say. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to provide solutions. But listening shows that you respect them and models how to have an open dialogue about race.
We can, must, and will make our nation better. Teaching your kids about racism is a step in the right direction.