How To Talk To Kids About: Race

How To Talk To Kids About: Race

It’s about time we talked about race. And injustice. And the horrible relationship between the two that - tragically - we see so much of, both far away and on our doorsteps. As KIDLY, as a community, and as parents ourselves, we know that children learn so much from meaningful conversations. We want to do everything we can to support these conversations, to call out racism and injustice when we see it, and to stand together - today and every day.

So, with a massive thanks to our KIDLY community and Parent Testers, who’ve sent us many wonderful messages and suggestions for reading and research over the past week, we’ve put together some ideas and resources that we hope will be helpful.

You can see the full list here.

"The problem is not about seeing colours, the problem is about hierarchies that we put among the colour, that's the issue."
Freddie Harrel, blogger and mum

Some of us might be tempted to assume that very young children are ‘immune’ to racial prejudice. Not so. Studies have shown that, while newborns are ‘race-blind’, by 3 months babies prefer own-race faces, almost certainly because they’re usually surrounded by people who look like them. However, sometime during the preschool years, this natural and innocent inclination towards what’s familiar morphs into something more problematic.

multiracial hands

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Research suggests that, by 2-and-a-half, most children use race to choose playmates. By 5, many have adopted racial biases shown in the adult population - with white children showing a worryingly marked preference for white playmates - and have learned to consider some racial groups higher status than others.

So, what can we do about this?

5 useful strategies for talking to kids about race

(Edited from an excellent podcast, Talking Race With Young Children, from NPR Life Kit.)

  1. Kids aren’t colourblind, so don’t be racially silent. There’s nothing wrong with your child observing skin colour; what matters is how the conversation continues, and the value you attach to it. The phrase, ‘Don’t shut it down, break it down’ is helpful. Talk to them about what they’ve noticed. Explain that everyone has unique colouring and correct any misassumptions they have. Make the chat positive and educational.

  2. Don’t wait for it to ‘come up’. Be proactive. Build affirming conversations about racial diversity - your own, and that of others. Positivity doesn’t mean being unrealistic. Help them understand that, within every racial and ethnic group, people believe different things and behave in different ways. And that there’s more diversity within racial groups than across them.

White mum cuddling dual heritage baby

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash
  1. When they experience prejudice, at either end, talk about it. How did the encounter make them feel? Push back on those stereotypes. Who on earth says princesses can’t have afro hair? Or superheroes can’t speak Urdu?

  2. Tackle the horrible stuff. It’s okay to talk about the huge issues - institutional racism, white supremacy, empire, slavery - in age-appropriate ways. Books and resources are invaluable. Give the facts and focus on resistance and allies. Lift up the heroes and invite suggestions from your kids about how you can be more active.

banner saying: NO JUSTICE NO PEACE

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
  1. Walk the talk. For kids to believe what you say, they need to see that you live it. On a very day-to-day level, think about what media you consume and who comes into your house. Choose books, toys and movies that include people of many backgrounds. If your playgroup or preschool is very monocultural, can you find other activities that are more diverse?

We hope these suggestions for reading and research will be useful. Please keep them coming and please join our KIDLY Book Club - next month's theme is diversity and we'd love to have your input.

We're also expanding KIDLY's offering in terms of toys and books that promote diversity. We're currently sold out of some of our most popular books - in the the Little People Big Dreams series - because they sell so quickly and Covid is slowing down re-stocking. But watch this space and please keep sending us us suggestions.

Main photo by [Kiana Bosman on Unsplash