How to Talk to Your Children About Racism and Social Injustice

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Just when we thought we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel from the coronavirus pandemic, our country was hit with another tragedy. With protests around the country, racism has never been on our minds more, specifically, what do we tell our children?

We want our children to grow up in a world where they value people equally no matter their gender, religion, or the color of their skin, but how exactly we go about making sure this happens can seem a little overwhelming. We don’t want to scare our children or make it too confusing, but we don’t want to ignore the situation either.

The answer about how to talk to our children about racism and social injustice really depends on their age, but there is one thing that is key no matter what. First, we need to make sure we, the parents and caregivers, are able to speak to our children in a calm way. We need to make sure that we release any stress, anxiety and anger that we feel. Our kids will feed off of our tone and our emotions. If we don’t want them to be scared, anxious and angry, we need to make sure that we collect ourselves first.

Now, let’s dive into how to talk to our children based on their age category.

  1. Birth to age 3

    Yes, even at this young age, children can tell the difference in skin color. You can look for books and toys that show people of all different nationalities. Talk to your little ones about how it’s wonderful that we’re all so different. Celebrate differences and different types of beauty.

  2. Preschool and Kindergarten

    You can talk about injustice by comparing it to fairness. If you have spent much time with a child around this age, you know that they often have a very good sense of what is fair. Annette Nunez told TODAY Parents, “Explain it in terms with experience that they’ve had. So maybe you talk about the time their brother got something and they didn’t. Start explaining the concept of inequality and then to relating it to the protests.”

  3. Elementary School Age

    Age-appropriate books that discuss discrimination and history are a great way to start a conversation. For example, look for books and videos about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Ask your kids what they have seen and how they feel about it. For example, Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician who teaches at the University of Michigan, recommends asking questions such as “’How do you think those people were feeling? Do you know why they were angry? What do you do when you feel like something is unfair?” Annette Nunez, a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, told TODAY Parents, “They need to know they are being heard and have a safe area to process these feelings and ask a question.”

  4. Older Kids

    You can watch the news with your kids. Also, assume that they have overheard your conversations. They probably know more than you realize. Rob Keder, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, suggests, “You can point out and discuss negative stereotypes that are demonstrated in movies and television shows. You can celebrate when people demonstrated courage in celebrating and speaking up for people who are different.”

  5. Help Your Kids Stay Safe

    Do you have older kids who are worried for their safety? There are ways that you can help. For example, it’s important to discuss with your children what they can do to protect themselves. The film Get Home Safely: 10 Rules of Survival” is a great place to start.

  6. Explain Privilege

    It’s important for parents to recognize their own privilege before they can explain it to their children. Watching the film, “What Is Privilege?” is a great first step.

    Whatever you do, start the conversation now. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the time your children are 12 years old, they will have formed their own strong opinions. Ignoring racism and social injustice will not make the problem go away.