4 Tips For Navigating Conversations About Race With Your Kids

by Dorian Smith-Garcia
Getty / Scary Mommy

Talking about race can be hard. And our society’s hesitation to address anything even remotely uncomfortable doesn’t make the conversations any easier to have. But when it comes to teaching your kids to learn about and respect other cultures — and be proud of their own heritage — these types of conversations are a must-have. And aside from celebrating racial and cultural differences, there are plenty of less-fun — but just as important — reasons that these topics need to be addressed early and often. Disparities based on race and ethnicity continue to exist and leave many members of the BIPOC community at a disadvantage when it comes to economic upward mobility, generational wealth accumulation, education, and so much more.

Don’t get me wrong: The last thing I want to do as a parent is shatter my child’s innocence by telling her that there are narrow-minded people in this world who may use their race to make snap judgements. But not diving into these topics is a privilege that I can’t afford as a Black woman. Nor can I pretend that my Afro-Latina daughter won’t face struggles like being asked, “Yeah, but where are you really from?” because she has Hispanic heritage — spoiler alert, this is a micro-aggression and P.S. Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

BIPOCs can’t be the only ones doing the heavy lifting when we talk about race. It shouldn’t be our job to educate other people about the dangers of harmful prejudices based on factors like skin color and speaking with an accent. We shouldn’t have to tell our children to suffer in silence simply because some people fail to educate their kids on how to be decent human beings.

So, if you’re reading this, take it as a sign that it’s time to broach this subject without opening your mouth and inserting your foot. Thankfully, there are some basic things you can do to create a culturally sensitive and emotionally intelligent child, so keep reading to get the conversation started.

1. Begin By, Well, Actually Doing It

There is never a “good time” to talk about race. It’s complicated, and complicated can feel hard sometimes. But putting it off until your child is in high school is like turning in a final exam three weeks after its due — don’t be shocked when you end up flunking the class.

According to Kelli Mason, the founder of Ripple Reads, a book club that focuses on conversations about race and justice, “Avoiding discussions about race actually creates a breeding ground for racist attitudes and behaviors.” Children pick up on nonverbal cues we give them even before they learn to talk. And if your child lives in a monochromatic bubble, any potentially negative feedback they’ve picked up about other cultures or races continues to get reinforced.

In short, bias is learned. Counter this potential damage by making it a point to talk about how people are different, and why those differences are good! Even simply reading your child stories or watching content that centers diverse voices can help to break the cycle of assuming that different equals bad.

2. Lead By Example

Don’t just pay lip service to racial equality. It means nothing to tell your children that “all people are created equal” if in your everyday life you have very few interactions with people who don’t look like you. Again, children are incredibly perceptive and will pick up on those unspoken cues quicker than what you say out loud.

If you want your children to be comfortable around other races and to recognize that racism is harmful, they need to be exposed to other cultures. And similarly, if you’re also exposed to other cultures and races, it helps to expand your worldview and gives you the tools you need to have those uncomfortable conversations.

3. Educate With Honesty

It’s no secret that many school districts miss the mark on teaching a comprehensive overview of history and the achievements of the many cultures that have helped to shape and drive this nation forward. So don’t wait for Black History Month, Asian American Pacific Islander Month, or Latinx Heritage Month, and hope that your school district gets it right. Expose your children to the rich histories of these cultures year-round.

At the same time, while America is a work in progress with a lot of potential, her hands are far from clean. Don’t shy away from honest conversations about where our country has fallen short and how that reality is still affecting how the world works today.

4. Embrace Teachable Moments

There are going to be times when reality will leave you no choice but to have a conversation about race with your kid, whether it’s an event in the news or an interaction you see in the grocery store. And when this does happen, don’t sweep it under the rug — especially if your child asks you about it.

If someone you’re with says something racist, do you call them out or do you laugh along nervously? If your child hears a news report about a racially motivated incident, do you address it head-on, acknowledging there are racial biases that can impact everyday life for BIPOC members, or do you change the channel? Meditate on these questions and use it as an opportunity to look inward and ask yourself if you’re leveraging these moments to teach anti-racism. Awareness breeds understanding, ignoring it doesn’t.

Print this worksheet for easy reference.