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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Talk about Race with Kids

By Sandi Schwartz

When was the last time you talked to your children about racial differences? Conversations about skin color typically start in preschool as children become more curious about other people and the world around them. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Ph.D., a professor of education, said in a 2016 NPR story that children are not waiting around for adults to talk about these issues. She found that kids are ready to discuss these topics early and are already doing so whether we realize it or not. (See Eyder Peralta’s “Teaching Kids about Slavery,”

Many parents, however, shy away from talking about the world’s ugliness with their kids, hoping that they will stay naïve and innocent for as long as possible. Thomas says this is not the best approach to take. It is more effective if we are in touch with our children earlier on and address these issues together as they grow.

It may be difficult to find the appropriate time or place to bring up race. Keep an eye out for opportunities that pop up, like a TV show, a book, a song, or an event that touches on the topic.

In his Dad’s League article “5 Tips for Talking about Racism,” Antoine Harvis offered a really clever way to begin the conversation with young children. Invite them to help cook some eggs with you. Be sure to have some brown eggs and white eggs. Ask your child what they notice about the eggs. What is different about them on the outside? Then crack the eggs together and ask them what they notice about the inside of the eggs. Point out how they are the same inside. Then explain that eggs are just like people—they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside. We should not judge anyone by appearance.

Because talking to our kids about race issues is such a challenging task, consider these helpful tips:

Examine your own biases first. Before you even begin to talk to your children about racism, take some time to look inside yourself and acknowledge the experiences, biases, or privileges that may influence how you address these issues. Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles about these topics with your kids. You can tell them that you are not an expert and want to work together with them to learn more. Consider taking an online test about bias created by Harvard experts:

Be a good role model. Many Americans think people are naturally racist, that racism is genetic. This couldn’t be further from the truth. According to experts, humans are not born racist. Instead, racism is a product of history. Our children are watching and listening to us. Beverly Tatum, Ph.D., psychologist, educator, author, and past president of Spelman College, suggests that the best way to reduce children’s prejudices is to model an inclusive home, demonstrating that we have friends of all backgrounds. “Parents who have learned to lead multicultural lives, connecting with people different from themselves, are more likely to have children who develop those important life skills at an early age,” she explains in Harvis’ Dad’s League article.

Tell them the truth. Racism is a very complicated issue that tends to be over-simplified to the detriment of children’s education. Be sure to discuss the realities of slavery and go into the details of historical events like the Civil Rights Movement. Turn to the Teaching Tolerance website ( and other expert resources that will walk you through the most effective ways to talk to your children about these issues.

Avoid generalizations and stereotypes. Choose your words carefully. Not every person in a particular group believes the same thing. It’s important for children to remain open-minded and to understand that individuals are unique and have varying experiences and views.

Celebrate the positives. Although American history is fraught with difficult race relations, it’s important to also focus on some of the heroes who fought or are now fighting for equality.

Encourage emotional expression. Learning about racism can be very distressing. Give your children a safe space to reflect on how it makes them feel. They may feel anger, shock, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and fear. Then ask them to look for ways to transform those negative emotions into positives, such as hope and activism. (See the article “Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism” on

Link history to present time. The most important reason to study the awful parts of history is to ensure that they aren’t repeated. Take time to draw links between events from the past with current affairs. Explain to your children that we are still fighting for equality for all. 


Fortunately, we have plenty of well thought-out resources to turn to when it is time to talk to our kids about race.

See PBS Kids’ page “How to Talk to Kids about Race and Racism,” for a variety of articles and other resources:

Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Heyday, 2017).
Henry Cole, Unspoken (Scholastic Press, 2012).

Andrea Davis Pinkney, Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013).

Dee Smith, Unique and Wonderful (CreateSpace, 2016).

Velma Maia Thomas, Lest We Forget (Crown, 1997).

Duncan Tonatiuh, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Harry N. Abrams, 2014).

Sarah Warren, Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers (Two Lions, 2012).

Common Sense Media also has an online database of suggestions sorted by age. See Other popular flicks include Amistad (1997), A Woman Called Moses (1987), Belle (2013), Invictus (2009), The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), Remember the Titans (2000), Roots (1977), Selma (2014), and 12 Years a Slave (2013).

YouTube has curated a selection of videos that cover the topic of race and includes a special section called “How to Talk to Kids about Racial Injustice.” See to watch videos such as “Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police” and “Racism and Violence: How to Help Kids Handle the News.” Also see PBS Kids’ “How to Talk to Children Authentically about Race and Racism,” at

Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer/blogger and mother of two. Find her at Get her free course on raising happy, balanced kids at