Talking with Your Kids about Race

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We live during a time when concerns over racism are on the rise. In fact, 58 percent of Americans say racism is a “big problem in our society,” according to a Pew Research Center Survey conducted in August 2017. That number is up from just 28 percent in 2011. Yet despite these statistics, racism is a topic that many parents and caregivers continue to ignore, often because they think it’s racist to talk about race. They believe that not talking about it will make it seem insignificant.

But the opposite is actually true. Parents should talk with their kids about race—and it’s never too early to start. Like so many topics, if you don’t talk with your child, someone else will. And you may not like what that person has to say. Don’t think for a minute that you’re initiating a topic your child hasn’t already encountered. Studies show that even toddlers recognize skin color. And by the time a child enters elementary school, he or she may have formed ideas about certain races.

Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that kids who grow up in a family where race is an acceptable topic are more likely to have a positive attitude about races other than their own. Or, if your child is someday the target of racism, he or she may need to learn how to respond. Like so many topics, it’s important to make sure any discussion about race is age-appropriate. Other than that, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Acknowledge different races. You can start to identify races when you’re reading books or watching TV with your child. For example, it’s okay to say, “That family has brown skin. They might call themselves “black” or “African-American.”
  • Talk about your own identity. Teach your child about your family’s heritage, including your race and ethnicity. If you have pictures of past generations, this is a good time to share them. And when you’re discussing history, don’t be afraid to share the bad with the good.
  • Attend a variety of cultural events. This is a great way to expose your child to different races, especially those that may be unfamiliar. Be deliberate about your intent, and make it known that your goal is to increase your child’s exposure and celebrate other cultures.
  • Get to know people who are different from you. When you develop a meaningful relationship with another individual, you make an important connection that transcends racial and cultural differences. Encourage your child to do the same, and watch the change take place.
  • Look for ways to counter common stereotypes. Kids are constantly bombarded with negative messages that form the basis for certain stereotypes. The best way to combat this is to share positive stories and examples of diverse individuals. Think of leaders, entertainers, politicians and teachers whose behavior counters these stereotypical behaviors, and share their stories with your child.
  • Talk with older children and teens about hate and racial profiling. Again, your child will most likely encounter these topics outside your home or while spending time online, in which case they may not be getting accurate information.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.