skip to main content
|

Ask Dr. Bronwyn

How To Talk To Your Kids About Race

The time to bring it up is now—even if your children are still young, and even if it feels difficult. Here, Dr. Bronwyn Charlton of @seedlingsgroup offers advice and resources for having these important conversations.
Written By
Dr. Bronwyn Charlton
Illustration
Romina Krosnyak
It can be scary and uncomfortable to have conversations with your kids about race without being held up by fears that you’re getting it wrong. But it’s important to do so anyway. If you wait until they bring it up, you may miss the developmental window. By 6 months of age, babies are no longer color-blind, and even preschoolers are more inclined to show in-group favoritism, by categorizing who they’re like, depending on the most visible attribute (e.g., “You are short like me, so you must act like me too.”). When parents avoid talking about race, kids are left to form their own opinions from what they hear, see, and observe. The implicit message that “everybody’s equal” isn’t enough, and it’s too vague anyway. From the earliest years, it’s important to talk with your child explicitly about race and to bring these conversations to life through your actions.



Begin with you:

Actively challenge your own racial biases. You’ll be less likely to pass on any biases you identify and work to overcome.

Read: From Christian Cooper to George Floyd: A Letter to White Parents.

Follow: The Conscious Kid

Envision: Twenty-years from now, how your child will talk about her experiences growing up? Did her parents talk to her about human differences? What kind of messages did they send? Did they carry out their messages through their actions?



Talk to your child:

Make it relatable. “How would you feel if…?”

Get in front of the issue. Begin race conversations early.

Recognize difference. Teach your child that people all over the world are raised in families with different values, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. That although no one is better than anyone else, sometimes people are treated differently because of how they think, feel, talk or look.

Appreciate difference. Help your child appreciate diversity and recognize how boring life would be if everyone was the same.

Celebrate racial identities. Support your child in building a positive awareness of diversity.

Be honest. Kids are amazing at noticing patterns, including racial patterns (e.g., who lives in your neighborhood, goes to her school, is a member of his club). Help your child make sense of the racial patterns he notices in his neighborhood, at his school or in his after-school classes, etc. Let your child know that the struggle for racial fairness is still happening today and that your family can take part in trying to help make positive changes.

Discuss tough topics in developmentally appropriate ways. Focus on the injustice, resistance, and allies.

Don’t take for granted that your child gets it. Does she know what a protest is? Ask her. How can we make laws change and be different for people? Talk about it.

Make talks about race a priority. Emphasize that change is a marathon, not a sprint. When you can, connect your conversations to meaningful actions.



Do with your child:

If your child doesn’t attend a diverse school, consider enrolling her in after-school or weekend activities, camps, etc., that are more diverse.

Choose books and toys that include people from different races and ethnicities.

Read stories. Every big story of racial oppression is also a story about people fighting back and making positive change through their actions.

Widen (if necessary) your social group to include diverse groups of friends and experiences.

Be a good model. Actions speak volumes and your kids are watching. Walk the walk.

Expose your child to a wider range of ethnically and racially diverse media.

Praise your child for treating people with kindness, respecting differences, and noticing them.

Seize teachable moments. If you or your child witness prejudice, talk about feelings (your child’s as well as the victim’s) and stereotypes that fuel discrimination.

Embrace curiosity. Don’t ignore, dismiss, or silence your child’s questions about race and differences, even the ones that make you cringe. Not being open to talking about any subject your child brings up sends the message that there’s something wrong with noticing or trying to understand it.



Learn:

Follow these accounts:
@rachel.cargle
@laylafsaad
@theconsciouskid
@firstname.basis
@racejusticeed
@themompsychologist


Materials and research provided by EmbraceRace.org, Tolerance.org, @britthawthorne