Talking about race can feel uncomfortable, and that’s normal. Many of us were raised to think that conversations about race are taboo, which makes it hard to do with children. This makes talking about race especially important because we don’t want children to feel that it is a taboo topic or one to be ignored. This Extension resource was created to support parents and caregivers of preschool-aged children. However, you may find these tips helpful for children of all ages!
Tips on Talking about Race
- Start conversations early. Babies as young as six months old notice racial differences.
- Understand your own biases. Research shows that conversations between parents and children are more effective when parents have reflected on their own biases and understandings of race.
- Communicate that it is okay to notice differences. When reading a book, ask, “Is that skin darker or lighter than yours? Do you know why we have different skin colors?”
- Be honest about what you do not know. You might respond, “I do not know the answer, but I will find out.”
- Acknowledge children’s questions and observations. If a child points out someone’s skin is brown, you might say, “Yes, their skin is a beautiful shade of brown.”
- Embrace differences during playtime by choosing toys, books, music, and art that represent a variety of races.
- Build conversations into children’s routine so they happen frequently, which supports children’s positive racial development.
Why Talk about Race?
Preschool-aged children are able to see racial differences and notice that different groups are treated differently. Talking about race interrupts the norm of silence. Open conversations can help children develop a positive racial identity, provide accurate information, and interrupt racial bias before it takes root.
What If I Say the Wrong Thing?
Adults often avoid conversations about race or racism because they are afraid of making mistakes or don’t know exactly what to say. This prevents children from asking questions or making connections. Remember, you do not have to be an expert. Let children know you are committed to learning together.
Aren’t We All a Part of the Human Race Though?
This approach may be well-intentioned but is not effective in preventing bias. Colorblind parenting ignores the fact that race impacts people’s lives. Teaching children that everyone is the same while children can see many types of differences can cause confusion. When adults do not talk about race explicitly, children still learn about how race functions in the world through their own observations, such as nonverbal messages, and parents miss an important opportunity to guide their children’s learning.
Explicit, Brave, and Frequent
Raising race-conscious children involves an approach that notices and talks about race early and often. The approach is explicit because we notice race in our lives, and we do not ignore the realities of racial discrimination. It is brave because we do not shy away from uncomfortable conversations. It is frequent because we do not stop after one conversation. Actively engage in children’s questions, positively acknowledge that racial differences exist, and guide children to behave appropriately when they encounter people who are different from them.
Hagerman, M. A. (2016). Reproducing and Reworking Colorblind Racial Ideology. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2(1), 58–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332649215594817
Harvey, J. (2017). From Color-Blindness to Race-Conscious Parenting. In Raising White Kids: Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America (pp. 23-57). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Want to learn more?
Extension Eau Claire County offers a 1-hour program called “Let’s Talk About Race: Race-Conscious Parenting with Children.” Contact our office for more details (715-839-4712).