Talking to your kids about race

Our children watch enough news and other media, overhear enough of our conversations, and have enough of their own experiences in the world to be well aware of race and racism.

According to, a baby’s brain can notice race-based differences as early as six months. Kids can internalize racial bias by ages two to four, and by age 12, children can solidify their beliefs for life.

This speaks to the urgency of engaging our kids in meaningful conversations about race. Doing so will not only help to accelerate their own development, but will make the success of school integration efforts more likely. Failing to do so could, of course, inhibit these efforts.

These are complex topics, but the conversations don’t have to be daunting. Here are some easy steps you can take to increase awareness in your child, adapted from information compiled by the Schools Committee of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race:

  • Be self-aware about your own views and biases.
  • Point out stereotypes in movies, books, TV and media.
  • Expose your child to diverse perspectives in the home in the form of TV and film, books, music and media.
  • Speak up when you hear language on race that makes you personally uncomfortable.
  • Explore these ideas through play. Use stuffed animals and make-believe stories to frame these issues, especially for younger children.
  • Frame racism in terms of fairness and unfairness, terms in which children tend to frame issues.
  • Talk about feelings and empathy. Ask children to consider how it would make them feel to be the victim of prejudice.
  • Don’t be judgemental of the thoughts and feelings your kids express. You can say, “Thank you for sharing that,” and consider how to address their specific thoughts later, if necessary.
  • Encourage action and activism. You can start small, but you can also work together with your child to address inequality in the world where you see it.

Conversations on race are complex and often challenging, no matter who you are talking to. There are many more resources available to help facilitate constructive dialogue here.