Talk to children about racism!

Over the last few weeks, the world has come together to protest against racism. Demonstrating against racism is important, but it is also important that parents talk to their children about racism and inequality, to educate them and to teach them to think and act differently.

Although children from a very young age recognize differences between people, racism is not something they are born with, it’s something they learn. Racist beliefs have permeated our culture and created systemic problems. Rather than just talking about it, anti-racism asks that we actively work against it. Some parents or carers may feel this is a tough conversation to have with their children. If this is the case, there are many useful resources parents can use to guide them through such conversations. While talking to children about racism, as with any other matter, the approach should take into account their (developmental) age. 

Early years (0 – 6)

We must already talk about race with young kids. Racism thrives in silence. Young children notice and think about race. Silence about race reinforces racism by letting children draw their own conclusions based on what they see and experience. In the early years, the task is to lay positive groundwork, addressing hate by cultivating compassion and tolerance.

Adults can already call out and challenge racism and bias with young children (in an age appropriate way) but it’s also important that parents and educators reflect on their own biases and the behaviour they are modeling.

There are different resources you can use like short stories, books or films. This clip ‘Hair Love’ shows an African American father learning to do his daughter’s hair for the first time.

Educators as well as parents of young children might also be interested in using some of the suggestions in Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. The first chapter is available free here.

Children (6 and older)

Discussing racism explicitly becomes easier. Older children can usually express feelings, thoughts and emotions through words. Use questions like: “What are people saying at school?” “What have you seen on TV?” “How do you think or feel about this?” You’ll be able to keep the conversation at the right level—of reassurance, honesty, and detail.

Besides keeping an open, ongoing dialogue about racism, you can create an inclusive, culturally diverse environment, by, for example, having books written by authors with different backgrounds or watching tv programmes that are not just portraying monocultural relationships.

There is a lot of information and materials about anti-racism practices. We gather some resources so you can start (or continue) the conversation with your children.

Inclusive parents vs anti-racist parents: the difference

More resources

Our Children, Our Workforce:
Why We Must Talk About Race and Racism in Early Childhood Education 
by Kelly Matthews and Ijumaa Jordan

How to teach your kids to fight hate an age by age guide.
Resources for Talking about Race, Racism and Racialized Violence with Kids

We can help our children to understand racism, and empower them to work towards equality for all!

1st Infographic adapted from:

2nd Infographic retrieved from: Curious Parenting