Teaching Young Children About Racism & Stereotypes
When it comes to teaching and guiding young children, discussions surrounding systemic racism, stereotypes, and racial discrimination play a significant role. If you’re not exactly sure where or how to start when talking to kids about racism, don’t worry, we’ve put together a few ways to approach racial injustice topics with your children. Keep reading to learn more on teaching kids about racial discrimination and how to make a lasting impact when having these conversations.
Define Racism and Stereotypes
When talking to kids about racism, the first step you will want to take is to sit down and explain the terms racism and stereotypes. Here is a simple, yet clear, definition for each that you can use when having this conversation with younger children:
- Racism: The incorrect belief that one’s race or skin color is better than another’s, and as a result, treating someone poorly based on their race. Racism can be further broken down to matters of systemic racism, structural racism, institutional racism, and more.
- Stereotypes: An assumption about what someone will do or how they will behave based on what social groups they belong to, such as race. Stereotypes are dangerous as they can lead to racial prejudice and implicit bias.
- A good example of this in social groups is when children identify certain traits as belonging to boys or girls and therefore make assumptions about someone based on their sex or gender.
Refer to Books and Movies as Examples
While introducing these terms and explaining them to children is undeniably important, there is only so much explanation that we can do ourselves. That said, referring to examples of how racism, stereotypes, and racial injustice exist in our society is a great way to expand their knowledge in these areas.
The following list of books and movies are all great examples that touch upon racism and discrimination in a manner that allows children to easily process and understand these themes:
- A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
- The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
- All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
- Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham
- The Color of Friendship (2000)
- Zootopia (2016)
- Frozen II (2019)
- Trolls World Tour (2020)
There are many more books and movies that can be added to this list, however, these examples are a great starting point for identifying systemic racism and discrimination in a way that introduces conversations surrounding such topics.
Explore Outside of Your Own Town and Culture
Another way to begin teaching kids about racial justice is to take a day and help them explore outside of their own little bubble. Whether it is ten minutes away, or a bit further, exploring a new town or city, either virtually or in person, is a great way to showcase the beautiful diversity that this world has to offer.
From culturally-rich restaurants to strolling or driving through diverse neighborhoods, each experience will open your children’s eyes to differences that they may not see on a regular basis. In doing so, your child will learn that racial equality is something to understand and celebrate.
Teach Your Child to Be an Ally
When talking to younger kids about racism and racial inequality, you must also teach your little ones to be an ally and stand up to racial prejudice. The easiest way to do so is by emphasizing the phrase, “If you see something, say something.”
Once your child has a basic understanding of racial inequality and discrimination, they will begin to recognize when racial bias or racial injustice is occurring before their eyes. That said, “saying something” doesn’t mean that it’s on them to confront racist behavior on their own when they see it happening. Even telling an adult, whether it’s a parent or teacher, can bring attention to the situation. Actions like this play a significant role in being mindful of discrimination and stopping it in its tracks.
Be a Role Model
Each of these steps are undeniably important, however, don’t forget that you are your child’s biggest influence. That said, try to be mindful of minor or subconscious ways in which you may be feeding into racial bias on a daily basis. Sometimes people are unaware of the ways that they feed into systemic racism and racial prejudice through implicit bias or joking about others. Each action you take and statement you make shapes your child’s views of the world around them. So be sure that you are taking the extra steps yourself to combat racism and set the example you want your children to follow.
Continue The Conversation
Lastly, racism and prejudice will not be fully understood in just a few deep, difficult conversations. In fact, the conversation surrounding these topics should never come to an end. Keep these conversations lasting, as children will have new experiences and questions as they grow older and see the reality of its existence in day to day life. Make sure to introduce diversity activities for kids to help them understand, celebrate and promote diversity rather than give into stereotypes.
Beyond the Discussion
With these steps listed above, you can be sure that you are properly educating your children on the importance of understanding racism and stereotypes and how they occur in society. With that in mind, the earlier you begin talking to your children about these topics, the easier it will be for them to understand and recognize these occurrences. However, if you haven’t started yet, it is never too late to educate on these topics. What is important is that you are starting now.
If you feel that your child has been a victim of the effects of racist bullying or stereotypes to any degree, Children’s Bureau is a great resource with a number of counseling and mental health services for kids. Focusing on vulnerable communities, and likely those who may have experienced such encounters, the Children’s Bureau offers an abundance of resources and tools to support younger and older children from ages 0-21.
Racism and stereotypes are unfortunately existent in society, however, when taking the time to educate and work against those instances, especially with your children, you can begin to hinder their occurrence in the world around us.
Susan J. Wood, Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT is the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.