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How to Talk to Your Kids About Racism

How to best talk to our kids about race and racism is a question on many parents’ minds right now. For us, it has been an ever-evolving conversation that continues to grow and change as our kids understand more and more about diversity and it’s history in this country.

how to talk to your kids about race

How to start the conversation about race and racism with your kids

Diversity Conversations with Kids

We have lots of conversations in our home. We are a lively, talkative crew. Some are loud some are quiet. Some are silly and some are very, very serious. Some of the most important conversations we have been having recently are about race and racism. Sometimes we sit the kids down to have a planned talk with them about this subject. That goes something like this:

Parents: “You know some people in our country are treated unfairly just because they have brown skin.” 

9 year old: “Momma, that is so sad. So Nana and Papa couldn’t even be married? Do you think we’ll go back to slavery days?”

We have high engagement and lots of questions from this one. 

7 year old: “That stinks.”

5 year old: “Can I have some applesauce?”

These conversations don’t always go as planned, especially with young children, but what we often find is that our children will chew on the information for a while and then we’ll be hiking and they will begin asking questions or we’ll be at the grocery store and they start sharing their concerns.

No matter how these conversations take place, here are several ways to make sure you’re on the right track. 

8 Ways to Talk to Your Kids About Diversity, Racism, and Race

Be kind.

Teach your kids to be kind. Be kind yourself.

Teach your kids to be compassionate. Be compassionate yourself.

Teach your kids to be careful not to assume the worst, but assume the best about people. Do this yourself.  You get the point.

The first step, the hardest step, in teaching your kids about race, is being and teaching the basics of human kindness. 

Now I won’t leave it there because there are definitely nuances to the subject of race. But I truly believe that the foundation of decency is paramount.

Acknowledge that race issues are complicated.

Talks about race and racism are tricky.  The history is complex and painful, and has shaped us in ways we can’t always see. As adults we all bring our own preconceived notions and past experiences to the table.

None of us has all the answers and none of us is without blind spots. It’s important to acknowledge that.

We are a biracial family. Both my husband and I have black fathers and white mothers, and we both have past pain related to this subject.  We have very complicated feelings, and a very complicated history.

So first we share that. Read more about my story – Reconciling Contradictions: A Biracial Perspective on Racism

Be Honest

We are honest about our own experiences. And you don’t have to be biracial or necessarily have pain to do this. You can be honest about your own feelings wherever you are.

You can be honest about your own misconceptions or your own beautiful experiences with the subject, but be honest. Your kids know when you’re not and honesty with your own experience or your own feelings goes a good deal farther than a lecture.

Be Humble

The most difficult and painful topics require the most humility. Share about times where your thinking was challenged by a person of a different race or culture, and how you learned something new.

Model a posture of humility — of loving people by listening to their stories and valuing their humanity. Model a willingness to be open to reason; a willingness to be wrong. Few qualities will better arm your children to be defusers of racial strife than a gentle voice, and a posture of listening. 

Be Patient!

They won’t get it all at once. You’ll probably need to have 100 different conversations about it before they grow up. 

Like I said, some of these talks will be planned with purpose by you the parent, but so much of the good stuff comes on days or at times when you least expect it. It will take time and repetition.

Chat about diversity while you’re cooking, hiking, driving. Don’t stop having the conversations just because they don’t seem to be having much of an effect. Be patient. 

Be Open

Don’t talk about the subject like it is shameful or forbidden to discuss because it is not. You want to encourage your kids to be open with their questions and their feelings, and if you shush them, or skirt the subject, they will develop a sense of shame about the whole topic.

We live in a season where this is an incredibly sensitive topic. They need to know you are a safe place to process. Encourage their questions and answer them as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answers, then it is an amazing opportunity for you to learn together!

Teach the History

This one will differ drastically depending on the age level of your kiddos, but honesty is key here again.

Your 5 year old might not be able to handle some of the gruesome truths about slavery in this country the same as your 13-year-old but they can understand the story of the underground railroad and the concept of a team of people working together to help one another.

Ask them what they are learning about history at school and fill in the blanks for them if necessary. This country has had countless shining moments and countless very dark moments. Be honest about both. Teach them about both. 

Expose them to Different Things

Don’t only play one kind of music or only read one kind of book. Cook different kinds of food and talk about the origins of that cuisine. These are all ways to talk about race and diversity in a positive light.

We are different and that is wonderful! We live in an incredibly diverse world. How remarkable that you get the privilege of introducing your children to it! Look at that opportunity as a gift and get as much exposure to different cultures as you can get your hands on

Our kids are such gifts. Parenting them through complicated waters is such a privilege. To walk them through these things is a precious opportunity for us to grow together! Keep talking! Keep listening! Keep engaging! They are watching and listening too.

Check out these books for children on diversity.