Healthy Kids YMCA Child Care

Why we need to talk to kids about race

Three female and one male preschool aged kids playing at a water table

Let’s face it: talking about race can be tough. It’s even more difficult when you’re discussing it with a child. Many adults avoid these sorts of “sticky” conversations — due not only to concern about a child’s mental preparedness to handle the complexities of the topic, but also because of discomfort with the topics of race and racism.

But treating race as if it were a four-letter word to be avoided does children more harm than good. Notions that children “don’t see race” — or are, in other words, colourblind — are simply inaccurate. Since the Clarks’ landmark Doll Test experiments in the 1940s, studies have continued to reaffirm claims that kids have the capacity to notice race, even as infants, and are conscious of racial stereotypes.

While it is important to teach children to judge people, as Dr. King proclaimed, “not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character,” talking about difference is just as crucial. Avoiding discussing race and racism with your child can leave them feeling confused about the subject and cause them to form their own conclusions, which may be grossly misinformed. In fact, research has shown that if children are given the opportunity to have conversations about race, they have fewer prejudiced views. If we want a world free of discrimination, having these difficult talks with our kids is a step in the right direction.

Making space for healthy dialogues about race also helps to better prepare children to live in a multicultural society. Because racism still persists throughout the world, your child might witness acts of racial basis — or be the target of discrimination themselves. Educating children about systemic racism, the ways in which race can shape people’s life experiences, and how to defend against prejudice can serve as a buffer to the harmful psychological effects of racist experiences.

It’s clear that having meaningful discussions with children about race are of great significance, but how exactly do we have these conversations? Read my follow-up blog post to learn how to address the issue of race with your child.