Talking to Kids About Race and Racism

As grief, anguish, and outrage over the horrific death of George Floyd spills across streets and screens of America, parents of all backgrounds may be struggling to talk with their children about racism.

The following tips were compiled by a diverse and experienced group of pediatric mental health experts at CHKD. We hope these ideas help parents feel confident talking with their children about the vitally important topic of racism in our communities.

Discussion tips:

  • First, take care of yourself, and be sure that you’re in a good frame of mind to talk. Speak calmly with your children, but don’t try to hide your emotions. Let your child’s age and development guide you, and use words and concepts they understand.
  • Allow children to express fear, anger, confusion, and sadness. Ask what they know, what they’ve seen, and how it makes them feel. Validate those feelings by using statements such as, “It’s OK to feel scared and worried.”
  • Avoid pretending that racism doesn’t exist. Acknowledge it, and point out that this is all the more reason to treat everyone as an individual and with respect.
  • Help them see things through others’ eyes. “How do you think that man or woman is feeling? Do you understand why? What do you do when you feel like that?”
  • Prepare children for encounters they may have with individuals who have racist beliefs. Thinking about your history with these issues will help you clarify the values you want to convey and the behaviors you want your children to demonstrate.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, let them know that. Say, “I’m not sure. But let’s look into it and learn about it together.” Show your children the importance of admitting when you’re uncertain about something, but also keep the conversation moving forward in a positive direction.

Ways to educate:

  • Teach children behaviors that combat racial bias by connecting with people of other races. Develop relationships with a variety of individuals in work, social, and neighborhood circles. The best way to overcome stereotypes is to nurture sincere connections.
  • Children should learn about the history of our country, and how it fits into what's happening right now, which helps them understand this is not just a current problem.
  • Never be neutral when someone is being disrespectful or using bigoted language. If it’s a friend or relative who is saying something racist, you can tell them directly, “I don’t want that type of language around my children.” Then, talk to your children after. If you don’t intervene, or say something in the moment, that will signal to your child that you’re OK with that type of language or behavior. Empower your kids to use their own voice in appropriate ways.

Take care of yourself, your children, and your community:

  • Watch enough news to stay informed, but then turn it off and do something that makes your family feel connected and whole.
  • Help children with deep breathing and re-grounding exercises.
  • Find ways to make a positive change, no matter how small. Be part of the solution. Stand up for the rights of others, and find ways to make your neighborhood and community a more just place. For instance, support local businesses that are owned by persons of color.
  • Overexposure to media, images, and other related content can be particularly traumatizing to a child. Limiting screen and social media time can be helpful. Also, check in frequently to see what they are reading, watching, and listening to, in order to engage in meaningful conversation.