As society continues to confront the complex realities of racism, it’s important to talk about race with your children. Without adult guidance, kids may develop biased attitudes from exposure to negative racial stereotypes, disparities, and segregation. Here are some ways you can introduce racism and teach your children to be inclusive and just:
Children notice differences across racial lines, but noticing differences is not the same as having negative or positive beliefs. Those judgments develop over time and are influenced by many things, including social climate and the experience. Not talking about race can lead children to absorb biases around them—often in ways that are counter to your values. Be a positive force in combating prejudice in their children. Bring up race early and create an environment that encourages questions and discussions about race.
Focus on Empathy and Fairness
Young children tend to view people as all good or all bad. Help your child recognize human complexity and consider both similarities and differences between people in appearance, feelings, preferences, and behaviors.
Talk about kindness vs. meanness, fairness vs. unfairness, and so on. Make it a rule not to reject someone based on identity. If teasing occurs, try to find out what underlies the behavior. The conflict may be about another issue, so help your child recognize and resolve that issue. If the underlying reason is discomfort with differences, plan activities to try to overcome that.
Expose your kids to positive images of other racial groups
To counteract negative stereotypes, expose your kids to stories, books, and films with positive images of people from different racial and ethnic groups. This type of intervention is shown to be one of the most effective ways of decreasing bias. Here is a list of multicultural books that transcend stereotypes.
Talk about the effects of racism
Talking about the effects of racism can be uncomfortable, but don’t avoid the topic. Be honest with your child about bigotry and oppression, and let your child know that the struggle for racial fairness is still happening. Learn about and share stories about racism and resilience. Every big story of racial oppression is also a story about people fighting back and speaking truth. Teach your child those parts of the story, too.
Remember, it’s never too late to start the conversation, and you don’t have to get it right the first time. Learning is an ongoing effort, so teach your kids about race, kindness, and fairness at every opportunity. If you need parenting help or are concerned your kids are experiencing anxiety due to racial tension, reach out to LifeStance Health. Our therapists can help guide conversations and provide ways to cope during this stressful time.