Tips for talking to your kids about racism

Small school kids with aprons standing at the desk in class, talking

It’s difficult to ignore what’s going on in the world at the moment, and important not to. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers has moved people across the world into action and sparked a global Black Lives Matter movement. Many of us are reflecting, learning, and asking ourselves, ‘what can I do?’.

As parents, we are in a powerful position here and we can really help to fuel a change for the future. We have the opportunity to teach our kids about racism and privilege and to help them understand the many prejudices and challenges faced by black people. We can show them by example, and by talking to them, how to stand up against injustice and become an ally.

I know, it’s not an easy subject to discuss. There will be lots of questions. But that’s a good thing. Can you imagine being a black parent explaining to their child that they may be discriminated against throughout their life, because of the colour of their skin. Being a white parent and teaching our kids about this is easy, in comparison.

I remember being a child growing up and visiting family in South Africa, I didn’t experience racism, but I saw it happening all around me. I may not have fully understood, but I knew, inherently, that it was wrong and that that wasn’t the way you treat your fellow human beings. Fast forward a few years and now I have my own kids who are nearly teenagers, I know that I have a responsibility to educate myself, and them. I know it is my duty to have conversations with them about racism and to teach them about the privilege they are afforded, just by being white.

To help you teach your kids about racism, I’ve put together some age appropriate steps you can take.

Toddlers

Toddlers notice everything, including race, and they’re already starting to make judgements. Judgements which are based on and reinforced by their parents cues. Cues might include things like, the way we react to other people and whether we are friendly or hostile? Toddlers look to their parents for approval, for example, when another child wants to play with them. It’s important that we are aware that our toddlers are watching us, and learning from us and our reactions to situations, including those that we may be watching through the media.

3 – 5 years

At this age, children are developing a sense of what is right and wrong, what’s fair and what isn’t. They are mixing with other children in the playground and forming friendships. They are also noticing events that are happening around them – including on the TV. They might become upset at seeing behaviour that they don’t understand – be it from other children, or adults. Keep things simple and provide them with examples of what is fair and what isn’t.

6 – 9 years

This age group will start to hear and take part in chat, at school, and online. Research has shown that children of this age are more likely to be affected by nightmares about things that they are exposed to. They might be old enough to get the basic concepts of race and protests, but they could well be confused and even frightened by events that they pick up on on the news and through listening to chat. You know your child best, so tailor conversations to them and what you think they understand. Listen to what they already know and talk to them about the facts. For example, in the case of George Floyd, explain what happened, why it was wrong, and why so many people are protesting. It could be a good idea to link this to conversations about other protests and what changes have happened as a result of them. Always try to finish on a positive note.

Adolescents

We can really start to build the conversation with these kids, and bring in other elements and examples. Ask questions  that will make them think. ‘How can we stop deaths like George Floyd’s happening in the future?’ ‘Can we trust the police?’ ‘How can we educate ourselves?’ ‘What can we do to help amplify our friends’ voices?’.

This age group are finding their own identities and trying to work out where they fit into the world. Speak to them about how they can take positive action about things they feel strongly about and help them to understand that they can make a difference.

Be honest with your kids. We’re not perfect. We don’t know all the answers. Don’t be afraid to tell your kids that you are learning too and that learning goes on throughout your whole life. It’s so important for them to learn that every person has a responsibility to educate themselves.

I urge you to be brave enough to start this conversation about racism and privilege with your family, even if it feels tough.

I’ve added some links below to some further reading and useful resources.

100 race concious things to say to your child to advance racial justice.

Stop worrying and start discussing race

A book about racism

Black parents explain how to deal with the police to kids

Nelson Mandela – KS1

Nelson Mandela  – KS3

Rosa Parks – KS1

Rosa Parks – KS2

Analysis of killings by police

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