Talking to children about race and racism


Many children are confused, scared and curious after protests and demonstrations have unfolded in the wake of the senseless death of George Floyd. Children are hearing conversations about race and racism—and asking questions.

When it comes to talking with children about racism, Dr. Roshni Koli, Medical Director of Pediatric Mental Health at Dell Children’s, a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist, and mother said, “The first thing all parents should know is that talking about racism is an important conversation that needs to happen.”

Dr. Koli says, there are plenty of resources out there on how to talk to kids about this important topic. She recommends that parents proactively engage their children around these traumatic events and discuss issues of race and discrimination in an age and developmentally appropriate way. Parents have an opportunity to make a change and educate our children about tolerance and inclusiveness. Dr. Koli highlighted the importance of talking to children about race in this KVUE report. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents talk openly with children about racial inequity in our society. Their recommendations include: 

  • Check-in with your child – Ask what they know, what they’ve seen, and how they are feeling. Validate their feelings and reassure them it’s normal to feel emotions. For younger children, you can tell them what you are doing to keep your family safe. For pre-teens and older children, you can ask if they’ve experienced mistreatment or racism, or witnessed this happening.
  • Watch for changes in your child’s behavior – some children may become more aggressive, while others will become withdrawn. If you are concerned about your child suffering more severe anxiety, fear, or distress, reach out to your pediatrician or mental health provider for additional support.
  • Place limits on what your child sees in the media – do not leave the TV on in the background. Listen to media, including TV, smartphones or tablets, and make sure media exposure occurs in a common area where parents can check-in. With older children and teens, watch with them and discuss what you’re seeing. 
  • As an adult, tune into your own emotions and check that you are ok – if you are not, ask for help to deal with the trauma and emotional impact of these images. Create a list of your own coping strategies, and when you need to use them, tap into that list.
  • For all families, this is a teachable moment – when you can discuss the history of racism and discrimination in the U.S. and equip your children to make change. If you struggle to find the “right” words, consider using books or other resources to share with your child. 

It is crucial that we, as parents, use our role to educate our children and let them know we are here to listen and address their concerns. Beginning with open, honest communication with children can hopefully be an important part of the solution.