How to Talk with Your Child about Racism

Guidance on how to provide support and create teachable moments
Mother talking with daughter while sitting on park bench

The death of George Floyd and the numerous events that have been put into motion across our country have been painful to witness and deeply upsetting to us all. We have been challenged daily by a constant barrage of flashing headlines, breaking news reports, tweets and social media posts, which have made these current events vivid and inescapable. Our children and youth have tuned in and sensed something is going on. They may be confused or scared and turning to us to help them understand and make sense of it all. As adults, we have a responsibility to support and guide them, but we may not know exactly how to proceed.

In the article “Talking to Children about Racism: The Time is Now” The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “pediatricians are deeply concerned about the effects of racism on children. Even vicarious racism – secondhand racism witnessed through social media, conversations with friends or family, or media images – harms children's health.” ​ They offer the following tips that may help us make the most of these teachable moments.

Check in with your child

It is not uncommon for children and youth to be upset, confused or worried about what is happening in the news. Begin with asking what they may have seen or heard. Ask them what is on their mind and how they are feeling. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know all feelings are okay. Reassure them if they are worried or feel unsafe. 

Look for changes in behavior

Notice how your child might be reacting by how they are behaving. Changes in behavior may look different for each child. If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with anxiety or trauma, check in with your physician or a mental health professional.

Limit exposure to media and social media

Decide what is best for your child to be exposed to. Limit younger children’s screen time, especially when the news is on.  For older children and teens, view or watch the news together and use this time to discuss what is happening. Listen for your child’s reactions and share your own.

Tune in to how you are feeling

Be aware of what is going on with your own emotions. Acknowledge and allow a range of feelings. Practice self-care routines that can help you cope. Talk with and seek support from friends or other parents. Reach out for help if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Use this as a teachable moment

Seize the opportunity to discuss the history of race and racism with your child. Use this moment to increase your understanding of the facts and learn together. Encourage questions and discuss possible solutions.

Use resources that may help

We may not always know exactly what to say or how to say it. However, there are many resources with tips and ideas that may help. We have referenced a few in the list below.

Talk and act

Having an open, authentic conversation is what matters most. Talking about race and racism is not easy, but if we are to create a more just and equitable society it will take all of us moving past discomfort and committing to action. Decide on what you and your family want to commit to for the future and begin to take steps in that direction. Our children and youth are looking to us and together we can make a difference.

Source: “Talking to Children about Racism: The Time is Now” (see footnote)

Resources for Talking with Children and Youth about Race and Racism

Use Literature to Help Talk about Race and Racism

You can check with your local library or bookstore for recommendations about books that feature diverse characters and include messages about belonging and inclusiveness.

These are also some great sites to check out!

American Library Association (ALA)

The ALA Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table selects winners of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards each year. These awards are given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of children’s and young adult books that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Here are some of their curated book lists.

Books about Racism and Social Justice

Books That Promote Diversity and Inclusion

Books with Characters of Color

Source: Heard-Garris, Nia and Jacqueline Dougé. “Talking to Children about Racism: The Time is Now.” American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed June 24, 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellnes...