NEA Parents' Resources

Let’s Talk About Race and Discrimination

Today, the nation is engaging in an important conversation about race in our government, in the news, in our communities, and yes, in our classrooms. Recent events have underscored the importance of diversity and the strength of different cultural perspectives in our society.

As parents, it is imperative to have candid conversations to ensure that your child feels safe, understands tolerance, and treats others with compassion and respect.

Below are a few tips that can help you start a dialogue with your child:

  1. Initiate the conversation. Don’t wait for them to ask. Be the one to bring up the topic with your children. Psychologist at Duke University Medical Center Robin Gurwitch said, “If we don’t start the conversation kids sometimes get the idea that, ‘This must be scary,’ or, ‘My parents don’t know what is happening so I don’t want to bring it up.’” Ask your child questions to see what they understand and how they feel about race and discrimination. Then build from their understanding your thoughts to answer questions and fill in some of the gaps.
  2. Be mindful of age. For younger children, it may be hard to grasp and process certain things. When talking to your child about race, make sure to talk in terms that they will understand and provide scenarios that they can relate to.
  3. Discuss the nation’s history. Talk to your child about remarkable moments in history, like the civil rights movement, including hardships different Americans have experienced and the impact those hardships have today. Explain to them what the country has endured and how it has moved forward. Be clear that the nation’s history is not perfect, but there has been improvement. Remind them that change starts with individual kindness towards all people.
  4. Keep in mind that you don’t have to have all the answers. As a parent you sometimes feel pressured to say all the right things. Discussions about race and discrimination are going to be ongoing and thought provoking for you and your child. Your role as a parent is to start the conversation, listen, and guide your child towards being an understanding and compassionate individual.
  5. Lead by action. You are your child’s role model. Reevaluate your actions. Ask yourself if the way that you deal with all people is the way you want them to deal with others.
  6. Help others. Advise your children on actions they can take when they see other people in trouble. For example, if a student in your child’s class is being bullied for their race, ethnicity or religion, make sure your child is aware that such behavior is unacceptable and that an educator should be notified.
  7. Watch out for signs. Pay attention to any changes in your child. Are they acting unusual? Are they struggling at home or school? Are they acting out in class? Changes in behavior could indicate that someone or something is bothering your child. If you have noticed changes, talk to your child and reach out to their educators with any concerns.
  8. Learn more. Take time to understand different cultures, religions and races, and spend time with your child to find common ground between your family and those of different backgrounds. Learn the ethnic makeup of your neighborhood. Talk to your child about the different cultural practices they may encounter, and how this diversity adds to the fabric of your community.

The conversations with your child may be challenging, but they are incredibly important to have. These conversations will help shape your child’s character and how they treat all individuals.

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