3 Tips for Helping Kids Understand Race and Racism
Nationwide demonstrations calling for social justice for Black Americans have been ongoing for several weeks now, broadcast on the news, discussed on social media, and taking root on the streets of big cities and small towns alike. The demonstrations are sparking questions from children, and many parents are feeling driven to do their part in raising accepting and unbiased kids.
Here are some important considerations for helping kids understand race and racial bias:
1. Don’t shy away from it
Research has shown that by as young as six months old, babies are able to nonverbally categorize between different races, and by two or three years old, toddlers begin exhibiting signs of racial bias and making judgments about the behaviors of others based on their race. Experts believe kids usually come to these conclusions about race because of the society they live in, not necessarily because they are being taught blatantly racist ideals. This means that avoiding the topic of race altogether may leave your child more susceptible to developing harmful racial biases.
2. Expose your kids to diverse perspectives
Be proactive in introducing your kids to perspectives outside their own. Introducing your kids to multicultural viewpoints may require intentionally seeking out experiences and materials that are more representative of racial and cultural diversity.
Here are some strategies for exposing your kids to diverse perspectives:
- Update your home library to include books with people of color in positions of leadership and hero roles.
- Think about the shows and movies your kids watch and ask yourself if there is appropriate representation of diversity in the storylines.
- Take stock of your child’s toys and dolls – are diverse skin tones represented?
- Visit museum exhibits that highlight diverse histories and traditions.
- Seek out cultural events in your community.
3. Recognize learning opportunities
It’s important that your kids know they can talk to you about race, so be mindful of how you respond to their comments relating to the topic. For example, if your child makes a benign observation about skin color, it is helpful to respond neutrally. If your child says, “that man is brown”, it’s okay to validate their observation. Remember, shying away from conversations about race or shaming your child for noticing a person’s skin color won’t do them any good.
It’s also important to recognize opportunities to correct your child’s biased concepts about race. If your child makes a statement that links race with a societal stereotype or value judgment, for example, this is an important learning opportunity where you can help your child understand how they came to believe that. Say your child says something like “that man is brown, he must play basketball”. Ask open-ended questions like “what makes you think that?” By opening up a dialogue, you will be better suited to correct your child’s biases and educate them about race and racial bias.
Keep in mind that it will be important to keep conversations about race ongoing. Instead of having an isolated “race talk”, be mindful about engaging your child in ongoing commentary about race and continuing to expand their experiences to include diverse perspectives and backgrounds.