6 Guides for Talking to Your Kids About Racial Justice

student voices

It has been a little over a month since our first blog on Talking to Your Kids About Race and Racial Injustice  This is part 2! 

We see in parent feedback that parents have very mixed feelings about the role schools and educators should have in talking about these topics.  Some parents love teachers and schools talking about current events and relevant topics and elections – others don’t.  

Regardless of whether you want conversations to happen at school or not, they do need to happen.  So here is part 2 of our blog post.  We spent the last post talking more about knowing your personal why.  Now we want to discuss the other areas.

  • Find a Prompt for the Discussion
  • Pique Their Curiosity With Questions
  • Share Your Key Points or Perspective
  • Focus on Systems Not Individuals
  • Determine What’s Next

Find a Prompt for the Discussion

This is a time that is bursting with prompts.  Your prompt should be informed by:

  • Your child’s age
  • Your child’s disposition and emotional state
  • Your personal identity and what matters to you

Here are a few of the prompts I recommend:

  • Books
  • Articles
  • Songs
  • Radio
  • Podcast
  • Personal Story

For example, if you have a young child you may want to read a book about a historical figure.  If you have an older child you may want to read an article together about current events and conversations about race.  Or you may just want to tell a personal story about either your experience or your friend’s experience.

If you are looking for prompts, Google is your friend.  

For example, google prompt (e.g. books, articles) + child’s age + discussing race.  For example, Google books for 7-year-olds discussing race.  It won’t be a perfect science, but you’ll be connected to a wealth of resources.

Pique Their Curiosity With Questions

Have a bank of great questions!

Here are some questions – and you can adjust these given your child’s age or emotional level or reflective level.

  • What do you think about how this character was treated?
  • Have you ever felt like you weren’t treated fairly?  What did that feel like?
  • Do you have any friends who look different from you?  What are the ways that you all look different? (you can then talk about the fact that while people are treated differently because of many things – their size, their hair, etc. – there are some ways in which treating people differently based on their skin color and race was made legal and still happens today).
  • Why do you think {book character} said that?
  • Do you ever see kids treated differently at school?
  • What are some similarities between your friends? What are some differences?  Why do you think that is?
  • Have you ever heard of the word race?  Or racism?
  • What do you notice about the people in our neighborhood?

You’ll notice there are questions that allow kids to share what they think, what they feel, what they have observed, what they know, what they wonder.

Share Your Key Points or Perspective

As writing teachers know, point of view matters.  What is your point of view?

  • Historical? 
  • Logistical?
  • Personal?
  • Emotional?

Knowing what perspective or key points you make will inform what you use as a prompt, what questions you ask.  

No matter which direction you come at the conversation, you can cross through multiple areas.  For example, if you want to start talking about racial injustice from a historical perspective, you might choose to read a book on Ruby Bridges going to school on the first day.  Teachers of reading often ask children to make connections to the text:

  • Text-to-self (how can I apply Ruby Bridges’ experience to my experience)
  • Text-to-text (what does Ruby Bridges’ experience make you think about what we read about Jackie Robinson when he first started playing baseball in the Major Leagues?
  • Text-to-world (how does Ruby Bridges’ experience make you think of what we read about how kids go to school in different parts of the world?)

Have a sense of where you’re headed and what you want to walk away from the conversation with.  Of course you aren’t going to just have one conversation, but the more successful you feel it is, the more likely you’ll keep the door open for future conversation

Focus on Systems, Not Individuals

As you talk about race and racial injustice, it may be tempting to talk about individuals.  Kids love to make meaning of the world through simpler terms – good guys and bad guys, mean people and nice people.  The reality is we are all collectively part of systems that are racist – and all of us are vulnerable to being perpetrators of racial injustice.  It’s important that your kid has the freedom to know and talk about this.  While there may be characters in books that are easy to dislike, as humans we all have potential to treat people unjustly.  We need to be guard on that, and our kids need to be as well.

Next Steps and Reminders

Finally, know what your next steps are.  What are other books you want to read, the conversations you want to have, questions you want to explore.  Conversations are fluid and ongoing.  My kids ask me questions that lead me to reflect and learn in new ways.  Or sometimes kids try to apply what they think they understand about a topic like race or racism – and may some things that sound cringeworthy :).  My family is multi-racial and my son who is Black and White looks White.  I remember my 5-year-old daughter asking if he was Whiterican-American.  

Remember a few things:

  • Not every question needs to be answered!  You can say, great question!  What do you think?  Or, great question!  Let’s look into that together!
  • Not every statement needs a response.  Sometimes your kid may say something and you don’t know what you want to say.  You can say, “that’s making me feel something but I’m not quite sure what yet.” 
  • You can let your kid lead the pace.  One of my friends who is a Counselor once gave me this advice when our kids were asking questions about how the body worked.  She said they’ll tell you when you’ve given them more info than they want or need 🙂
  • Make sure the conversation is a start, not an end
  • Bring the conversation up again and again and again

For any topic that includes a combination of facts and feelings, we encourage you to teach facts and facilitate opinions and feelings.  Share facts with your child, but then from there facilitate their opinions and feelings.