Tips for Talking about Race and Racism - Action for Healthy Kids
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Tips for Talking about Race and Racism

It is human nature to notice differences between individuals, and children are no exception. Infants as young as 6 months begin to notice differences in skin color and hair texture1, and continue to make observations about racial differences that can shape their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.2 Because of this, it is never too early to talk to children about your family’s understandings, values, and belief systems about race and racism.  

Talking to your child about racism often and throughout childhood is a powerful way of teaching them that it’s OK to talk about differences and about injustice, as well as teaching them that they can be part of a kinder, more inclusive, more understanding world. 

Cultural Humility Statement and Disclaimer

We recognize the legacy of institutional, structural, and interpersonal racism that has defined American history. These forces have marginalized, victimized, and denigrated the bodies and opportunities of Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC) and have privileged White people. These experiences shape the types of conversations parents and caregivers have with their children.3 We have included different suggestions for White parents than for BIPOC parents for this reason.  

We recognize that the term “BIPOC” is not a perfect one, is not descriptive of all individuals who do not identify as White, and is not inclusive of all communities who have been hurt by racism and discrimination. Our intention in using this term is to elevate the experiences of communities who have been excluded from the benefits of Whiteness in American culture. 

We encourage all families to look through all the information here to begin to cultivate an understanding of how institutional forces might affect their own family dynamics, conversations, and priorities. The information presented here may deepen your understanding of others’ lived experiences and provide some examples of affirming language you can use in your family conversations, and it is not representative of everyone’s experiences. Our suggestions may not apply to every individual or family, and your family’s culture, beliefs, and values will inform how you incorporate these ideas.

For Everyone

  • Acknowledge racism. Taking a “color blind” approach, such as saying “In our family, we don’t see race,” or “Skin color doesn’t matter where we live” denies that racism is a force that all people are impacted by, and that many people are negatively impacted by. This approach also makes children of all races less likely to notice, interrupt, and combat racism. We have more suggestions about how to do this below.  
  • Expose your child to all kinds of people and families in books, on TV, in real life, and everywhere! This can include exceptional and noteworthy people, and should also include everyday people and families living regular lives. 
  • Focus on the helpers and the potential for change. Helpers can be someone of any background who calls out and addresses an injustice in the world. Notice and celebrate them with your family. 
  • Ask what they already know about race. This gives you a starting point and an opportunity to clarify any misunderstandings and answer their questions.  
  • Notice different skin colors in books, in the world, or within your own family. You can explain to children that different skin colors come from having different amounts of melanin in the skin. 
  • It’s OK to not be an expert. Don’t let the fear of “getting it right” stop you from starting a difficult conversation. You and your child are both on this journey together. 

 For BIPOC Parents

  • Make sure your child knows the things you love about who you are. Celebrate your hair, your skin, your culture, your language, and you. 
  • Find your right balance between honesty, caution, and hopefulness. Many BIPOC parents have valid fears that talking about racism will make their child fearful, angry, or adopt a sense of hopelessness. At the same time, they want to teach their children skills and strategies for keeping themselves safe and thriving. You can help your children handle this by framing your conversations about race around how they can handle it, their strengths, and your family’s love. You can have honest, developmentally-appropriate conversations about your own lived experiences. This may include experiences with interpersonal, internalized, and institutional racism. It will also include your reflections about the positive, joyful, and enriching experiences you’ve had being who you are.   
  • Limit children’s exposure to news about race-based violence. While it is important to talk to children about what’s happening in the world, be mindful of how much access children have to scary, anxiety-provoking, or violent images and stories.  
  • Talk to your child about racism. Talk about their own experiences and questions. Teach them skills to cope with strong feelings, and encourage them to spend time with friends, family, and other members of your community. 

For White Parents

  • Acknowledge racism. Taking a “color blind” approach, such as saying “A person’s race doesn’t matter” denies that racism is a force that all people are impacted by, and that BIPOC are negatively impacted by. Avoiding the conversation makes talking about race and racism taboo, which makes it much more difficult to confront and change unjust ideas, practices, or stereotypes. It can also send the message that BIPOC are not to be talked about at all, or are only relevant when they are victims. Well-intentioned parents can often teach their children that race doesn’t matter, when what they want to teach them is that it shouldn’t matter. Talking about this openly is important in making this distinction for your children. 
  • Do your own work.   
    • Learn about the history of systemic, institutional, and interpersonal racism in our country and in your own community. Pay attention to the ways that these forces are still at work.  
    • Consider how white privilege has impacted your own life. White privilege refers to the inherent advantages to being White in the US. 
    • Remember that acknowledging that you have benefited by being White is not the same as being racist, agreeing with racism, or wanting it to continue. It is, though, a powerful way that you can interrupt racism in your own life. 
  • Help your children notice opportunities to speak up against wrongdoing and injustice in small and in significant ways. Model this in your actions and in your language. This might be speaking up when someone makes a racist joke, getting involved in a social cause, or wondering aloud about whether something was caused by racism.  
  • Share your sadness, anger, or other reactions with your children when something unjust happens. It is normal to want to shield your children from pain. It is also important, however, to teach your children that is it also normal to be affected when someone is hurt by racism or other forms of injustice.  







This project on Improving Mental, Behavioral and Academic Supports to Students and Families, Part 2 is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $434,555 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.