You are here

Why, When, & How: Talking to Kids About Antiracism

What is "antiracism"? 

An antiracist person is someone who actively opposes racist beliefs, attitudes, and practices; antiracism refers to acts that oppose racism.

Cool, but I'm not racist, so my kids aren't racists. Why do I need to talk to my kids about antiracism?

As we said in our page explaining antiracism, practicing antiracism is about more than just "not being racist". Practicing antiracism or being an antiracist requires a commitment to actively opposing racist beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws and policies.

As a parent, caregiver, or human being who is occasionally/frequently in proximity of non-adult humans, being antiracist also requires a commitment to teach the kids and teens in our lives to:

  1. See and celebrate the diversity of people's races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religions, etc. 
  2. Acknowledge that some beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws and policies are racist
  3. Identify racist beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws and policies
  4. Teach how to oppose racist beliefs, actions, attitudes, laws and policies

When and how do I talk to my kids about antiracism? 

Talking to kids and teens about literally anything can be awkward. Luckily, teaching kids and teens about being antiracist doesn't have to be any more awkward than other conversations. 

0-12 months

1-3 years old

4-10 years old

11 years old & older

The Bottom Line:

  • Kids are always watching you. Sorry if that's creepy, it's the truth. From infancy through teenagerdom, you (and the other adults in their lives) are modeling beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors they will incorporate into their own lives.
  • You can't be with your kiddos all the time, so it's important to give them the skills they'll need to be fully capable, responsible humans in the world — at recess or in college.
  • NOT talking to kids about race and racism is as strong a statement as talking to them about it. Kids are incredibly intelligent people that are too often underestimated or dismissed. They are always watching and absorbing and interpreting; it's better to be intentional about what we teach them.
  • With intentional and constant effort, you can help your kids and teens practice antiracism.

*The page was created by Keiana Mayfield, MSW in partnership with East City Bookshop.


 

0-12 months: Infants begin smiling at faces around 2-months, and can have strong (to put it mildly) reactions to strangers or being separate from their caregivers around 9-months. Infants are super learners! Between birth and their 1st birthday, infants develop the capacity to recognize and remember faces, show curiosity in people/places/things, begin making their preferences known, and many more cool things. 

  • You can "teach" infants about antiracism by providing ample opportunities for them to see diverse people in different contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. It's less about teaching antiracism, and more about modeling antiracist behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and language for your little human. Add board and picture books with diverse characters doing fun AND routine things, like getting ready for bed, to your book hoard.

 

1-3 years old: Toddlers have a bad reputation. They're rapidly developing language and mobility skills, copying the behaviors of everyone around them, and loudly pointing out differences they notice in others. Teachable moments were invented for toddlers, as they respond best to immediate feedback. 

  • You can teach toddlers about antiracism by providing ample opportunities for them to see diverse people in different contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. Toddlers are actively absorbing everything everyone around them is doing and saying, and will appreciate simple explanations about the things going on around them. Reinforce that differences are normal and positive things we should celebrate, and help them see similarities! Board and picture books with diverse characters showing a range of emotions, in a lots of different contexts, are great during this period. 

 

4-10 years old: At the lower end of this range, kids are beginning to enter school, maybe for the first time. Across this age range, kids gain more independence, and are beginning to read on their own. Kids typically have some freedom to make choices, from the books they want to read, to the people they choose to be their friends. Finally, in this range, kids begin to self-segregate based on racial/ethnic group.

  • You can teach kids in this age range about antiracism by providing them with picture books, early reader books, and middle grade books that discuss the historical context for our racialized society. Although you can read these books to younger children, they will likely understand less of the content, but the exposure is still great. It's still important to provide opportunities for kids in the 4-10 year old range to see and interact with diverse people in varying contexts through books, media, and in-person experiences. Again, teachable moments, are key to reinforcing that our differences are both normal and positive, while also helping kids identify similarities. Kids during this range may be more aware of current events, and can benefit from reminders not to make generalizations about ethnic groups.

 


11 years old & older:By 11 years old, most kids are entering or about to enter middle school, which may dramatically increase the diversity of their schools. Kids are also entering adolescence, when they'll experience the magic of puberty, identity development, and a host of other unpleasant, but necessary biological and cognitive processes. Despite how it may seem, adolescents have a better capacity for abstract thought and understanding complex concepts. They are also more interested in participating in "grown-up" conversation about current events. 

  • You can teach older kids and teens about antiracism by providing them with media that depicts a diverse range of real and fictional characters. Kids and teens can also be given books about antiracism, as well as more advanced and nuanced books discussing the social and historical context for our racialize society. It's important to have conversations with them about past and current events, as well as getting their opinions on racism and antiracism in their own lives. 

*The page was created by Keiana Mayfield, MSW in partnership with East City Bookshop.