Teaching Kids About Racism: Advice for Parents

Melinda Macht-Greenberg, PhD

June 3, 2020

 

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many children about racism. The question they often ask is, “why would anyone treat a person differently because of the color of their skin”? I find that particular question very hard to answer, as I cannot understand it myself. Yet, every time I hear the question, I marvel at the innocence of children. Children are not born knowing what racism means, racism is learned. It’s an acquired concept effectively and often subtly taught and reinforced in our society and I’m hopeful that we can effectively teach children not to follow down the well-worn path. We can teach children to challenge inaccurate assumptions, embrace diversity, and support the rights of all people to live in a free and just community. 

 

So, how do we do that? Here are some tips for parents to teach children about racism and what they can do about it. 

 

 

  1. Say it out loud. Simply having conversations with children about racism, and condemning it out loud, will be a big step in the right direction. Talk with your children using age appropriate language about what is going on in the news. As horrible as these current events are, they can provide a useful context for discussion about what racism means and how it affects people in our society. Talking about racism out loud and giving children an opportunity to ask questions provides a space for dialog within your home. Teaching children about racism is not one “talk” but a lifetime of conversations.

  2. Make it personal. Ask your children if they know what racism is and if they have any experience of seeing someone treated unfairly because of the way they look, how they sound, or how they act. Children will often have examples that you can build upon as you move from their personal experiences to a discussion of the world at large. Children might tell you about a friend who was treated unfairly in a game at recess. Although their story may not have to do with racial inequity specifically, the personal examples may reflect similar underlying themes. The stories can be powerful tools in helping children understand how racism and fairness might affect people on a day-to-day basis. 

  3. Teach children about history. There are many books for children that are excellent resources for explaining concepts from slavery to the civil rights movement to our current times. But it can also be helpful for children to hear about the history from parents, including your own thoughts about what transpired and why events from the past are still relevant today. One way to do this is to watch videos together. For example, you can watch a video of Dr. Martin Luther King delivering a speech and then have a discussion about it with your children. For a list of books, check out: https://www.embracerace.org/resources/26-childrens-books-to-support-conversations-on-race-racism-resistance

  4. Teach kids about kindness. Racism does not occur in a vacuum. The more we reinforce basic concepts of kindness and fairness, the less opportunity there is for injustice to occur. Teaching these concepts and using real life examples for children, will lay a strong foundation as they grow up. Not only can we talk about these ideals, but we can help children put them into practice at school, on sports teams, in their neighborhood, and within your family. Be explicit with children about why we need to treat each other with kindness and that by doing so, we can make the world a better place.

  5. Be a role model. Children are watching what we do and are learning from adults every day. Put your words into deeds that your children can see. Say, for example, that a new family moves into your neighborhood. You can bake cookies with your children and bring them to the family as a housewarming gift. You can explain to your children that you want to make sure the new neighbors feel welcome. In this way, you are showing and telling your children how to treat others with kindness.

  6. Move outside the bubble. Everyone is so busy that it is easy to get caught up in the bubble of our daily lives. However, children can greatly benefit exposure to music, art, literature, and food from other cultures from a very early age. Through the joy and fun of exploring cultures from around the world, we can teach children to appreciate that we are all different, and that our diversity makes us better and happier.

  7. Teach children to feel good about who they are. Too often, people mistreat or put someone else down out of their own insecurities. Instead, we can teach children to feel good about their contributions to a project or team, or to value their accomplishments, without making someone else feel badly in the process. When we feel good about ourselves, it’s easier to make someone else feel good about who they are.

  8. Do something. Actions can speak as loud as words. There are many worthy causes to support or groups to join that are fighting racism on a large scale. By joining an organization with your children or supporting a business owned by a person of color, you can take action while also being a role model for your children.

  9. Tell kids the truth. Tell children about the unfairness and injustice in the world and how people of color are treated differently and are often inappropriately seen as a threat. Tell them that you do not believe these things. Tell them that you will always stand up for everyone. Tell them that you are upset at the injustice. You may worry that you will cause distress in your child by having difficult conversations, but if you have the conversation in a reassuring and age-appropriate way, you can offer them insight without making them worried.

  10.  You may not be able to change THE world, but you can change YOUR world. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the immense nature of such enormous problems in our world today. But we do not have to let unattainable goals be the obstacle of what we can achieve. If we all change our piece of the world in small ways, the volume of change would be tremendous. Do little things to create small changes. Encourage empathy and compassion, celebrate diversity, and be intolerant of injustice in your daily life. Teach your children that every act of kindness can have a big impact.

 

Together we can make a difference, one person at a time. It all begins with open conversations with our children. Children can grow up understanding the impact of racism in the lives of our friends and neighbors. They can be taught to appreciate other people for who they are and to understand that it is not fair for people to be treated differently because of the color of their skin. With empathy, compassion, and kindness, I believe that the cumulative effect of these simple acts will change the world.

209 Burlington Road/Suite 207

Bedford, MA 01730

Office: 781-879-5363

m.machtgreenberg@gmail.com

machtgreenberg@educationalconsultingpc.com

                                                                                                     EducationalConsulting,PC