Children notice and can understand injustices to people at an early age. Therefore, it is important that we start conversations with them about race, racism, and injustices at an early age. They are never too young to model positive relationships with people of all backgrounds. Specific conversations about racism and injustices can – and should – start early and happen often so they develop respect for and acceptance of others.
Racism and slavery can be especially difficult to discuss, but we NEED to talk about it. Children who encounter racism often feel lost and confused, not knowing what is happening to them – which can impact their long-term development and well-being. For young Black children, learning about their history can help them develop a positive racial identity, provided it is done in an uplifting, empowering, and inclusive manner. For young white children, learning about historical racism and slavery interrupts any false sense of racial superiority. This is important because studies show that by age 5, children begin to act on their racial biases.
If we choose not to talk about racism, our silence is still talking about it – but in a way that our kids learn to ignore or dismiss the importance of it, think it is a taboo topic, and potentially create incorrect thoughts and biases about racism.
Conversation is key! The conversation with your children should be natural and comfortable, so your kids feel free to ask questions. If you are not sure about an answer, look it up and get back to them with the answer. You do not know what questions they may have until they ask them. Although questions, such as “Will we ever be slaves again?” or “Were my relatives slave owners?” may be difficult to hear, kids need the space and time to ask as they learn and process all the information. Be sure to check in on how they are feeling with these big concepts too!
Tips by age
Under 5 years
- Celebrate differences, yet point out the things we all have in common
- Clearly answer their questions about differences between people, in a loving and accepting manner
- Explaining injustices as “unfair” is helpful at this age. They tend to understand unfairness at an early age.
- Discuss what they are learning through social media together. Not only is this helpful for other topics, but racism and injustices will inevitably come up – allowing for a natural conversation to happen on the topic.
- Similar to social media, be curious and ask what they are learning at school or what they discussed with friends today. Open, honest conversations build trust with your children and help you identify and work through the challenges and false narratives they are encountering.
Tweens and Teens
- Keep the conversation going about racism and discrimination. Find opportunities from current events to think deeply and compassionately about the world around them.
- Encourage them to engage with others as positive examples – engaging and responding to racial issues.
Conversations help all of us! Discussing race and diversity helps children develop a healthy appreciation of differences between people. By raising the next generation to appreciate and build on these differences, we can become stronger together.