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Parents and Teachers - How to Talk Honestly with Kids about Racism + New Resources
How to Talk Honestly With Children About Racism
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and in the midst of protests around the country, we’re again left wondering what we should say to our children about racism in America. What is too much? What is not enough? What if they’re too young and we scare them? What if we’re scared, too?
“Children are never too young to be exposed to diversity,” says Dr. Aisha White, Director of the P.R.I.D.E Program within the Office of Child Development at University of Pittsburgh. “The research continues to show that children recognize skin color differences at a very young age. As young as 3 months old, they may look differently at people who look like or don’t look like their primary caregivers.”
At age 2-and-a-half, children can start developing and observing racial biases they see in the world around them. “Once they get to age 4 and 5, it’s a critical time when White children, for example, begin to exhibit obvious bias,” says Dr. White. “And Black children or children of color begin to feel discriminated against because of their skin color.”
In this moment, we must choose to have confidence in ourselves and in our children — that we, and they, can handle tough topics and tough situations. We must, as parents, understand that our role is to be honest, specific, and trustworthy as we raise the next generation to confront racial injustice. We must turn to the helpers — those who have been guiding anti-racist work for years and who can help guide us now.
Here are seven tips from Dr. White to help parents prepare for difficult conversations and start discussions, using picture books, activities, and asking questions of our children.
Practice what you want to say before you say it.
A big struggle we have when it comes to addressing racism with our children is that conversations about race can bring up fear, uncertainty and discomfort for us, too. “Have these conversations with another adult first,” says Dr. White. Calling up a friend, another parent from school, or a family member to practice will help you become comfortable with what you want to say. Try to imagine questions your child might ask, and be ready to answer those questions, as well.
Be aware of your own biases.
“Really what children pay attention to is adult behavior,” says Dr. White. “You can talk incessantly with your child, but if you behave in ways that demonstrate you are fearful of people of color, fearful of Black people, or if your children are growing up in an all White neighborhood and you don’t expose them to people of color — children do notice that. They notice your body language. And they listen to what’s being said around them.”
Use picture books.
Notice what your child might be learning about race from their favorite stories. If all the characters in a book look the same, ask what your child thinks about that. If the characters are diverse, ask something like, “which character would you want to be friends with?” Dr. White says you might be shocked by their answers, but try not to react with judgment. The goal is to understand what your child knows, doesn’t know, and what they might already think about race. Then you can help your child learn by asking more questions and preparing yourself for more conversations in the future.
Ask your child how they feel — directly.
You know your child best — so be aware of their emotions, then consider asking if there is anything they are worried about or afraid of. If your child is worried about being hurt, you can explain how you will protect them. And if they’re worried about you being harmed, let them know what steps you will take to stay safe. (“It’s important to me that I be a helper by going to the protest. I will hold my sign and be kind to others. If I think it’s not safe, I will leave and come home.”)
Answer “Why does this keep happening?” with an activity.
Take out some string and have your child wind and tie themselves up — maybe even looping your hands together with their hands. “Then, talk about the fact that racism and oppression and discrimination has been building for a long time. It’s really tangled and layered,” just like your hands will look, says Dr. White. You can talk with your child about how long it will take to untangle the string and untangle racism. (“Even if we get one knot out, there will be more left, and we have to keep working at it.”)
Instill confidence in Black children through storytelling.
Dr. White says one of the most important things parents can do is make sure Black children hear from you and others they love that their skin, hair, and facial features are beautiful. This can help build confidence in the way they look.
Then, you can support that confidence with storytelling. This is core to the work of Dr. White and the P.R.I.D.E. Program. Simply surrounding your child at home with books, magazines, pictures, and cultural artifacts that feature Black people can lead to improved problem-solving skills, improved behavior in school, and a greater ability to remember facts and information. Reading books about Black leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges can help support a positive racial identity, says Dr. White. And diving into books that represent Black families in everyday life can be racially affirming, as well. (Try picture books like The Snowy Day or Peter’s Chair.)
Help children begin to understand how to be an ally.
With school-aged children, Dr. White says you can start to have conversations about standing up for your friends and classmates. She suggests an activity created by an educator in the P.R.I.D.E. Teacher Cohort:
Try reading Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All, and ask your child what they would do if they saw characters in the book being made fun of, or called names, or bullied. At the end, you can have your child write out a sentence or draw a picture about how they can be an ally and who they can be an ally to. This can be “a step toward children thinking about what they can do as a young child who might not feel like they have a lot of power — but they do,” says Dr. White.
Summer is full of opportunities to play and learn! We know summer might look a little different this year, but Camp PBS KIDS is here to fill your days with creativity, exploration, and fun for the whole family. Explore ideas, tips, and activities around different themes with your favorite PBS KIDS characters.
Explore the properties of different ingredients and how they can transform while creating tasty (and safe!) edible slime.
- Build a Sandcastle With Daniel Tiger
Is your family missing the beach a little more than usual this summer? If you can't make it to the beach, play along with Daniel as he builds sandcastles at the water's edge.
- Stay Cool: 'Red, White and Berry' Strawberry and Cream Popsicles
Beat the heat with this simple summertime snack! All you'll need is sugar, heavy cream, and strawberries to make a sweet treat the whole family will love.
MORE ACTIVITIES BELOW!
- "A Call to Action for White Educators Who Seek to Be Anti-Racist" on PBS TeachersLounge.
- The new "Confronting Anti-Black Racism" collection on PBS LearningMedia will help middle and high school students understand the long history of anti-Black racism in the United States, and think about ways to address it in their own families and communities.
NEW on PBS KIDS: Meet the Students of Hero Elementary!
Hero Elementary is a school for budding superheroes, and when the heroes’ powers fall short, they harness science to save the day! The team works together to help people, solve problems, and try to make the world a better place. When their imperfect powers aren’t up to the task, they look to their other powers – the superpowers of science – to help them investigate, observe, make predictions, and figure out a solution.
Download Hero Elementary Coloring Pages
Get creative and color in your favorite heroes. Share your artwork on social media and remember to tag @PBSKIDS!
Play Online: Super Seasons Snapshots
Explore the outdoors with the Sparks Crew. Find out how nature changes during different seasons and snap pictures of wildlife to earn badges.
Create Your Own Hero
Everyday people can do amazing things! The Xavier Riddle Hero Maker game helps kids learn about historical figures who changed the world, and then lets kids play and create their own character. Talk about and create essential worker heroes like first responders, postal carriers, utilities workers, doctors and more.
You, Me and Community: Together We're the Key
Introduce your children to their communities - including the helpers and essential workers keeping everyone safe - in a series of sing-along videos called “You, Me & Community.” Watch now for free on the PBS KIDS Video app and the PBS KIDS YouTube channel.
MORE FROM PBS KIDS
Kids Regressing? Help Them Cope With Stress During Coronavirus
Since young children aren’t likely to say, “Hey Mom and Dad, I feel stressed and need help right now,” what should parents be looking for? And when we do see signs of distress, how do we support our kids in a way that builds resilience?
Check Out More Ideas Here!
MORE ACTIVITIES MAY BE FOUND HERE FROM FROM PBS KIDS!
MORE RESOURCES FOR LEARNING FROM SOUTH CAROLINA ETV
SCETV encourages you to view the videos from MEET THE HELPERS on Knowitall.org!
Also, be sure to visit our resources for Early Learning here on Knowitall.org!