Talking to Kids about Race and Racism

Talking to Kids about Race and Racism

Written by: Jordan Levine, PsyD

The police killing of George Floyd in May has caused increased awareness of and protests against racial inequity across America. Many parents are grappling with how to speak to their kids about this complex issue. It is important that parents have these conversations with their children so that they can understand why so many people are feeling such intense emotions. These conversations also may encourage kids to begin examining their attitudes and behavior as relates to race.

General tips for how to speak to kids about race issues:

  • Be direct – don’t beat around the bush
  • Speak in simple terms
  • Speak calmly
  • Be reassuring
  • Don’t minimize your child’s fears or sadness
  • Express that we can all work towards necessary change
  • It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers

Further tips by age group:

Ages 2-6

  • Keep things concrete
    • Young kids don’t understand concepts or systems, but we can still teach them about race. 
    • “There is something called melanin in people’s skin. People who have more melanin have darker skin. People who have the most melanin are black and people who have the least melanin are white. “
  • Talk about fairness 
    • Young kids quickly begin understanding the idea of fairness, so this is a good way to frame the concept of racism.
    • “Sometimes, people are treated differently because of how they look. Black people and brown people are often treated worse just because they have darker skin. This is not fair and not right. Everyone should be treated the same way, no matter how they look!”
  • Celebrate diversity
    • If your child notices people’s differences in the real world, take the opportunity to celebrate those differences. 
    • “We are all different, and special in our own ways, which is amazing!”

Ages 7-12

  • Find out what they know
    • Children around this age may be starting to hear about current events through friends, the Internet, or TV. Try to find out what they have heard and what they understand, keeping in mind that they may be scared about something that they have heard. 
  • Encourage open discussion
    • If they ask a question, do your best to respond. 
    • Let them know that you are always available to talk. 
    • Praise them for expressing their feelings – don’t discourage expression of emotion.
  • Let them know when you are uncertain
    • It’s ok to let them know that you don’t know all the answers, or that the subject can be difficult to talk about.
    • If you don’t know the answer, you can research it with your child and learn together.


  • Be very direct
    • You should be direct with kids of any age, but especially teens. They know when you are lying or sugarcoating, and it may cause them to stop looking to you for answers or discussion.
  • Ask open-ended questions
    • Try to get them talking about their feelings or experiences with open-ended (not “yes or no”) questions. 
    • “What were you feeling like when you saw that happen?”
    • “What are your thoughts or feelings about George Floyd?”
    • “What kinds of things have your friends been saying about it?”
  • Respect their autonomy
    • If your teen withdraws from a conversation or isn’t ready to talk, don’t try to force it. Teenagers who don’t feel like talking will not respond to forced discussions. Give your teen the autonomy to come back and talk to you when he/she is ready.
  • Share your own experiences and feelings
    • Teens may feel safer to share if they aren’t the only ones sharing.
      • Don’t be afraid to share your experiences of racism, including racism towards you, or racism that you have witnessed. 
    • Show your teen how to be self-reflective by speaking about your privilege or about a time that you regretted not speaking out against racism that you witnessed. 
  • Encourage action
    • Your teen may be developing strong feelings about racism. If so, encourage to take action (see below). 

How you or your child can act as anti-racists

People can contribute to the cause of racial inequity by taking anti-racist action. Anti-racist action may include:

  • Speaking up when you witness racism
  • Reflecting about your own attitudes and behavior surrounding race
  • Supporting policies that contribute to equity among racial groups
  • Researching the history of racism and race relations in America
  • Listening to the stories and feelings of those who have been discriminated against

Concepts to keep in mind while discussing race:

  • People of all races, nationalities, cultures, and religions are equal and are entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunities.


  • America has failed to treat all people equally since its foundation, starting with its treatment of Native Americans and the institution of slavery. Unequal treatment of people based on race continues to be a problem today.


  • Many people are angry about the unfair treatment they and/or their racial group have received.


  • Racism can take the form of personal attacks or systemic racism. There are many examples of systemic racism. For example, school districts that serve communities of color typically receive less funding than school districts in predominantly white communities. 


  • White Privilege is the idea that white people benefit, often without realizing, from racist actions or policies. For example, while white people rarely have to worry for their safety while being pulled over by police, black people may fear for their safety due to disproportionately police violence against black people. 


  • Color Blindness refers to the idea that some white people no longer see race as a factor affecting equity in the US. Color Blindness stalls progress toward equality by denying that racial inequities exist. Color Blindness can also be offensive to people who experience the negative effects of racism every day.




Fergus, E. and Price, A. Having Hard Conversations in Difficult Times – Talking to Our Kids about Current Events, Racial Injustice and Inequity [PowerPoint presentation].


Kendi, I. (2019). How to be an Antiracist. Bodley Head.

Sidwell, M. and Mahanti, S. (2020, July 2). Talking to Your Kids about Racism.


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