How to Talk About Racism with Children

If we want to end racism, we have to do it from the time children are young. Here's how to talk about racism with children.
How to Talk About Racism with Children
María José Roldán

Written and verified by the psychopedagogue María José Roldán.

Last update: 12 February, 2023

It isn’t easy for parents to talk about racism with children, whether they’re prejudiced toward other people or not. Some people avoid talking about these issues because they don’t fully understand them or don’t feel comfortable discussing them. Also, there are people who’ve experienced racism and feel the need to talk to their children about it so that the same thing doesn’t happen to them, or so they know how to handle it if it does. Keep reading to learn more about this topic.

You don’t need to have experienced racism to talk to your children about it. In fact, we believe that it’s a topic that must be addressed in order to work on diversity in our society. In this way, we seek to increase tolerance and humanity.

Before you start, you should know that it’s not an option to not talk about racism with your children, because it doesn’t protect your children, but rather the opposite. Therefore, you leave them exposed to those prejudices that alienate people and make hearts turn cold. Children who suffer from this type of discriminatory treatment may feel bad, as they don’t understand why other people treat them badly for no reason. This can affect them in both the short and long term.

Find out how to talk about racism with children

Children understand the world differently than adults, so it’s important to talk about racism when they’re young. If you don’t know how to approach the subject, don’t miss the tips below.

Three girls sitting on a tree branch holding hands.
It’s very important to talk about racism when children are young because, in their childhood, prejudice doesn’t yet exist.

Under 5 years old

From the age of 5, children can begin to show discriminatory behavior, so you have the opportunity to establish the basis of their worldview. Use language that’s easy to understand for their age. Keep this in mind and remember the following:

  • Talk positively about people’s differences and similarities. For example, “Even if our skin is a different color, we’re all human, unique, and wonderful”.
  • Maintain good communication. Don’t make racism a taboo subject, and whenever your child has questions, answer them. And remember that it’s okay not to have all the answers.
  • Be a fair person. In this regard, when talking about racism, make it clear to your child that it’s unacceptable and unfair to people. Therefore, we all have the power to change that in the future.
  • Put words to situations. Children need to have words to expand their vocabulary. To do this, explain what happens when a person has darker skin color: It’s simply because they have much more melanin.

From 6 to 11 years old

Children at this age talk about how they feel and want to know more about the world. Therefore, you should try to find out what your child knows about racism and then address the issue. To do this, follow these tips:

  • Show interest. First, listen and ask your child questions. You can ask them what they understand about the word or if it has been discussed at school.
  • Talk about the news and the Internet. It’s important to know what kind of information they consume both on TV and social media, and, if racism is present, ask them what they think about what’s happening.
  • Keep communication open. Talking about various topics with an open mind, trust and sincerity will make your child feel closer to you and more motivated to ask you anything that’s on their mind. If they trust you, they’ll want to talk to you about anything.
Girls making fun of a black classmate.
Despite their curiosity, children often have a lot of information around them that they don’t always understand. It’s important to find out what they know about racism and then talk about it.

From the age of 12

It’s from the age of 12 that children begin to understand concepts that were previously much more complicated for them. Perhaps, they even know more than you imagine about this topic and it even generates certain emotions in them. That’s why it’s important that you talk openly. To do this, you can do the following:

  • Talk to them about what they know about racism.
  • Ask open-ended questions about racism at every opportunity.
  • Motivate your child to act against racism or discrimination.

Encourage acceptance, tolerance, and respect

It’s important that your children, regardless of their age, have the opportunity to learn about different cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. This way, they’ll understand that race doesn’t really exist, but simply human diversity. Race is only an invention of man, and racism must disappear through acceptance and tolerance. Dignity and respect are fundamental.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Woodson, J. (2018) El día en que descubres quién eres. Editorial: Nancy Paulsen Books

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.