Throughout American history, race has been a source of conflict. This is also true of many other countries. Should you teach your child about race? And how do you do that?

Diversity is an important part of the human experience. Living in a modern ‘melting pot’ of cultures exposes people to many traditions and beliefs.

It is important for children of all races to be aware that there are people in the world that are different from them. Sometimes people are treated differently based on their appearance, gender, sexuality, and so on. However, make sure to emphasize that no matter their beliefs, looks, or customs, all kinds of humans should be equal. Portray diversity positively.

Why education on race is important

In preschool-aged children of multiple races, both implicit and explicit racial bias are seen. Since the 1940s, it has been found that Black children prefer white dolls over black dolls, and some minority children including those of Chinese descent prefer friends from their own ethnic group. 

Depictions of people of various races can also have an effect on an individual’s self-identity. Positive racial identities contribute to positive academic, health, and psychosocial experiences in Black children.

White and Black babies as young as three months old stare at people who are of a different race than their caregiver(s) for longer amounts of time. 

As children age, their friend preferences move towards those who share interests with them. However, subconscious racial preferences often persist into adulthood. This can have consequences in work and daily activities.

For instance, teachers may hold certain beliefs or stereotypes about particular ethnic groups, which in turn influences expectations of students of different ethnicities, as well as the way in which content is taught.

But people who are taught about diversity and multiculturalism from a young age show fewer racial preferences. An emphasis should be placed on viewing different ethnic groups positively, versus emphasizing that they are not negative. A conscious effort to educate children on the issue of racism should also be made.

While racism can be a touchy subject, it is important for children to know about inequalities in the world. Having an accurate idea of the history and perpetuation of discrimination from an early age contributes to a more informed and unbiased worldview. Keep in mind that instead of just being educated on racism, some people experience it.

A common experience amongst many Black Americans is having “the talk.” No, not the birds and bees talk – but a discussion on how to handle encounters with law enforcement. Because of systemic racism such as the fact that Black men are perceived as scarier and more prone to criminality, Black parents often fear for their and their children’s safety when they have to come into contact with police.

Remember, your child will be quite influenced by what you do and say all throughout childhood. Though teaching kids about racism and other forms of discrimination may involve some tough questions, there are many resources available to make the process easier.

How to teach your child

Picture books are a great resource with which to teach young children about race. Make sure your child has access to books with diverse characters and themes. Encourage them to ask questions and have open conversation about race from an early age. You can facilitate honest answers by asking direct questions, such as their opinion on the diversity of characters in a given book. You can also give direct answers when children make observations about race.

If your child is Black, surrounding them with cultural artifacts or media like books or pictures featuring Black people has been shown to improve problem-solving skills and behavior

Talking about unfairness is a good way to introduce racism (or another form of discrimination) to a child. By the time a child is aged four to five, they should be quite familiar with the concept of fairness. 

While you can also teach your children about protesting, it is important to limit their exposure to violence. Until a child is about five years old, they cannot regulate their emotions well. News broadcasts or movies with any form of violence should be avoided as young children do not have adequate reasoning skills to comprehend complex situations. Instead, opt for media depicting historical events involving race relations and discuss how those events have contributed to race relations today. 

Teenagers especially enjoy expressing their views on various issues, and you should ask them about their experiences with racism and other forms of discrimination. Learn about what they hear from friends at school, on social media or on the news.

What other strategies do you have for talking to children about race and racism? I encourage you to be open and honest while discussing race in your family. As always, share any newfound knowledge you’ve gained with someone! Help someone learn something daily.

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