Talking to kids about race

Recent protests are sparking questions from children. Not shying away from those conversations is the first step in raising an anti-racist child.

Over the weekend, intense protests fueled by the killing of an African-American man by a white police officer in Minneapolis took place around the world. No matter how much we want to shield our children from these upsetting images, kids will likely be overhearing conversations about race, racial differences, and racism—and asking questions. Experts say that how you answer could shape your children’s feelings about race for years to come.

“This moment in time provides people with an opportunity,” says Candra Flanagan, director of teaching and learning for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). “Adults might want to turn off the TV or be silent. But kids are getting their information and understanding from other places. It makes it that much more important to have these conversations so they aren’t getting outside messages different from what [parents] want them to have.”

For some parents, the protests taking place after the death of George Floyd will result in their children’s first questions about race and racism. Those initial conversations can be unnerving, but educators urge parents not to shy away from them, even if the children are young. Underestimating their ability to comprehend issues around race and injustice would be a mistake, says Caryn Park, a professor at Antioch University in Seattle, whose research focuses on children’s understanding of race and ethnicity.

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