5 Ways to Talk about Racism with Your Kids

Your kids are little sponges and they are looking to you to show them the right way to live life.  They are looking to you teach them ethics, values and morals.  They are watching everything that you say and do and are taking note. Racism is a tough issue and some parents ignore it or try and avoid it for as long as possible.  They think that their kids are too young to understand or they just feel uncomfortable discussing it.  In truth, however, racism is one of the most important things you can ever discuss with your child.  Here are 5 ways to start “the talk”:

1- A book.  A book about racism is an easy way to open up the conversation and break down the concept for them.  Children’s books about racism and tolerance are written to be understood by little ones.  They often don’t specifically use the word, “racism” but talk about tolerance and open minded, loving behavior.  They may broach the subject of people looking or acting differently and how a child can behave in such situations.

2- A movie. Similarly to children’s books, there are children’s movies that teach tolerance and cultural awareness.  They may talk directly about racism or may just talk about being kind to those that are different.  The most important thing is that you don’t pop the movie in and go have a cup of coffee.  You need to sit with your child and watch the film and then discussed what he or she learned afterward.

3- Use toys to start easy talks about diversity. You can do this in two ways.  First of all, and most importantly, make sure that all of their toys are multicultural and demonstrate different skin tones, ethnicities and cultures.  If your child is Caucasian, all of their dolls should not be white and their books’ characters should be diverse.  The second way in which you should use toys to help them understand racism is to use those toys and books to demonstrate important concepts about diversity and tolerance.  Some ideas include:

    •Using their action figures/dolls (who are of different races) to act out scenes of love and harmony.

    •Reading books about different religions and belief systems.

    •Encouraging them to care for a doll of another race.

    •Encouraging them to dress their dolls in culturally diverse clothing.

    •Encouraging them to build different families with their action figures/dolls and teaching them about all the types of families there are out there.

4- You can also simply ask your child if they have any questions about racism.  You might ask if they have ever felt picked on or put down for being different, you can also ask if they have ever witnessed bullying or other inappropriate behaviors because of race or ethnicity.  Then, you can ask them how they handled it and discuss what they might do in the future.

5- Discuss the word, “normal” with them.  Ask them what they think is normal.  Then ask them if they think they know anyone who they don’t think is normal.  Allow them to answer honestly even if you aren’t pleased with their answer.  Then, use the discussion to lead into a conversation about the word “normal” and how it means something different to everyone. (Ex. For an American, bread is “normal.” For an Indian, naan is “normal”) Explain that no one person’s “normal” can be wrong.

These conversations aren’t always easy, but they are necessary. Your children are exposed to all kinds of opinions on TV, in books, at school and during extracurricular activities.  You need to be sure that they are learning the things that you want them to know.