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Parents’ toolkit for raising antiracist kids: A practical age-by-age guide

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Racial bias can start as early as babyhood or toddlerhood, due to the social and societal patterns that little ones observe all around us. If we do or say nothing about race or racism as adults, we’re sending the message to kids that things should stay exactly the way they are. That’s why antiracist conversations, books, media, and activities are necessary from a young age.

Many parents may see the urgency of the issue of racism, but don’t always know where to start with their own kids, or which kinds of topics are okay for which ages or developmental stages. The key is to meet kids where they are at, and focus on what they will find relatable in some way — and since race and racism pervade almost every aspect of American society, these tie-ins can be found almost everywhere too.

These resources should give you plenty of starting places, as well as places to dig deeper. Racism and antiracism isn’t just a one-time conversation with kids — it’s an ongoing family dialogue as well as a series of choices and changes that you’ll want to make.

Resources for babies, toddlers and preschoolers (0-6)

With the youngest kids, parents and caregivers can begin by showing kids that differences are normal and good, and that it’s okay to talk about them. You can also begin to answer kids’ questions and introduce ideas about what those differences can mean for your family and the people (or characters) around you.

Coming Together by Sesame Workshop: The child development and education experts behind Sesame Street have compiled videos, activities, and resources to help families discuss race and racism from many perspectives, all through a preschooler-friendly lens (Elmo always helps with that!). Even more racial justice resources for families with young kids can be found on this Sesame Street in Communities page.

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin: This picture book celebrates the beauty of living in the skin that we’re in, starting as babies and toddlers. It can help parents introduce the topic of differences in skin color, and provides families with a fun, positive, and age-appropriate angle for discussing it.

Hues of You: An Activity Book for Learning about the Skin You Are in by Lucretia Carter Berry: This interactive workbook provides some great starting points for kids and parents to dive deeper into the concept of skin tone. It shows kids of all skin tones that it’s an okay topic to talk about, learn about, find joy in, and even to draw and get creative with.

Our Skin: A First Conversation about Race by Megan Madison, Jessica Ralli, and Isabel Roxas: This board book doesn’t shy away from explaining racism to the very youngest audience. Racism is a hard concept to explain in simple terms without glossing over the important reasons racism exists — and this book delivers, along with additional tips for parents. Also keep in mind while reading, as the book’s website says, “It’s okay to take a break, leave something out for now, or weave in stories of your own.”

All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger: This nonfiction book explains the science behind skin color in a very straightforward way. It’s important for kids to learn about melanin early on, so that they don’t have to make other assumptions about why skin color differs based on stereotypes or misinformation they may have heard.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o: Whether in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, kids have probably already started absorbing the message that dark is bad and light is good. This powerful story about a dark-skinned girl acknowledges that problem — and helps kids turn it around, with a little help from magic.

Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani; Princess Hair by Sharee Miller; and Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand: Race is not only about differences in skin color, even for young kids who take things quite literally. Get kids learning and talking about other physical traits that are often attached to race and ethnicity, such as hair. These three books are interesting for almost any age because they celebrate hair (including body hair) from varying perspectives and cultures.

Resources for elementary-aged kids (7-10)

Many of the above books and resources can also continue to be relevant for early elementary-aged kids, but here are some more ways to keep up the conversation as kids get older and begin to understand the world around them in more complex ways.

Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices: Young activist Marley Dias hosts a series on Netflix Jr. in which inspiring Black authors and celebrities read thought-provoking books by Black authors, often adding their own twist or commentary. The series could be a great starting point for rousing family conversations, and trips to the library for further research!

What We Believe: A Black Lives Matter Principles Activity Book by Laleña Garcia: We’ve all heard of the Black Lives Matter movement, but do we understand its principles? This book helps deepen your family’s understanding of the movement by introducing discussion and reflection questions on the guiding principles, and offers space for kids to write and draw their responses.

Script for teaching your kids about the Underground Railroad: Slavery is an extremely hard topic to bring up with kids, because it’s just so horrifying. That’s why it’s important to give attention to hopeful themes such as the Abolitionists and how they worked together to get enslaved people to safety and eventually end slavery altogether. This script provides honest facts while placing emphasis on the action that people of all races took to fight back.

Script for talking to your kids about Japanese internment camps: Anti-Asian racism can be hard to know how to bring up if you haven’t directly experienced or witnessed it, but one way is to delve into it is through history — a history that we could all stand to learn more about. The script comes with a list of reflection questions to discuss as a family.

Teach Your Kids About Our History of Segregation with This Powerful Image: Our script can help you start a conversation with kids about school segregation and learn the inspiring story of Ruby Bridges. Let the reflection questions lead to further discussion about what your family can do about injustices in your own school environment.

Teach Your Child the Facts Behind Columbus Day or Teach Your Child the Real History of Thanksgiving with One Picture: When (or before) one of these holidays rolls around, these interactive discussion guides can help you find ways to balance thankfulness and seasonal celebrations with a more honest take on history and the key contributions of Indigenous people.

“How come there’s no White History Month?” An explainer for kids: Kids (or their classmates) often ask cringe-worthy questions like this — but they’re honest questions that should be taken seriously, as kids are still figuring out the dynamics of race and racism. So here’s a guide to discussing this type of question (or a similar one about “reverse racism”), or helping your child figure out how to respond to a friend who asks.

Script for talking to your kids about Jim Crow Laws: These talking points help you discuss an ugly time in our country’s history in a way that’s relatable to kids’ lives. This context will help them understand the serious foundation of racism and why it still affects our lives today.

We Got Work to Do: Anti-Racism Mini Course from Alphabet Rockers: If your kids love music, dance, and creativity, this might be the perfect online course for them. The family-friendly hip hop group Alphabet Rockers created an interactive curriculum that includes song lyrics, videos, creative activities, and more to transform kids’ awareness of racism and what we’re all going to do about it.

Resources for tweens and teens (11-18)

As kids develop more agency and autonomy, as well as more complex logic, they can bring their learning and their actions to the next level. Although teens and tweens can consume many of these resources by themselves, adults can also gain something from participating — plus, your support and listening will go a long way.

This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell: This book is designed for older kids who are ready to take a deeper look at topics like identity and privilege, and to apply what they’ve learned to taking action in their own lives. Parents can follow along with the activities suggested in the book, and use the book’s Family Discussion Guide.

Vox: What Black Lives Matter means to an 11-year-old: This powerful video depicts how 11-year-old Jolia Bossette feels about being a Black kid in America. She asks, “When did I stop being cute and start being scary?” This should be enough to spark some meaningful discussion about racism and antiracism.

The Very Best Code Switch Episodes for Kids: NPR’s Code Switch podcast covers everything you ever wanted to know about race, racism, and antiracism from history to current events and pop culture. The show is primarily meant for adult listeners, but Code Switch curated the most kid- and teen-friendly episodes so that older kids can get in on the learning and conversation, too.

Cut: Black Parents Explain How to Deal with the Police: In this video, parents have honest conversations with their Black children on how they will have to be more mindful in all interactions with the police because of what they look like. It’s a must-watch especially for non-Black families, who can then ask themselves: How, and why, have our family’s conversations about racism differed from these?

Beyond “I have a dream”—5 Things About MLK Jr You Should Share With Your Kids, and What To Say: Your kids have no doubt learned about Martin Luther King Jr. in school, but do they know how controversial he was in his time? Do they know he was arrested 29 times in his life? These examples and quotes can give you a jumping off point to explore more about this well-known Civil Rights figure, and the reflection questions give you fodder for applying the principles to your own lives.

March trilogy by John Lewis: It’s important to understand the historical context of racism in our country, and this graphic memoir account of the Civil Rights Movement by one of our country’s modern antiracist heroes is a must-read. Teens and adults may want to read in parallel to process and discuss the violence perpetrated by white supremacists in this historical account. But it’s a story that will stay with readers as they fight current injustices.

Also coming on January 31, 2023: How to Be a (Young) Antiracist and The (Young) Antiracist’s Workbook by Ibram X. Kendi

Additional resources for parents

While all of the above age-by-age resources are recommended for parents to take in alongside kids, there are other guides that can specifically help with the parenting angle of raising antiracist kids.

ParentsTogether’s scripts: In our Instagram guides, ParentsTogether offers dozens of examples of race-related conversations that kids might bring up with their parents or caregivers, along with a suggested script of how you might respond for each one.

Home School: How to Talk to Kids About Race: This short episode from The Atlantic’s animated video series Home School encourages busy parents to start talking and showing kids about race by using pop culture, landmarks in your own town, and everyday situations.

NPR Life Kit: Talking Race with Young Children and How White Parents Can Talk To Their Kids About Race: These short podcast episodes are a great place for parents to get a pep talk and some background information, before diving deeper into these conversations with kids.

EmbraceRace: This hub of information and community supports parents of Black and POC children, parents of white children, multiracial families, adoptive families, and more in their efforts to guide their children through a racialized society. EmbraceRace offers free webinars (which you can watch either live or afterwards) and action guides on topics such as supporting kids after incidents of racial violence and guiding kids through cross-racial friendships.

How to Raise an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi: This book is not so much a prescriptive how-to guide as an honest companion for parents and caregivers who want to help end the brutal cycle of racism. Lest you feel intimidated by the title, note that even the author admits in the introduction, “The thought of nurturing my child to be antiracist did not sit well with me. It was uncomfortable to even think about. If anything, I wanted to shield my child from racism as long as I could.” The rest of the book is filled with real-world examples to bolster you in the journey from a child’s birth to young adulthood.

First Conversations: Continue the Conversation: This comprehensive and carefully curated list of resources about race and racism from the team behind the board book Our Skin (recommended above) can help parents do further research and answer tricky questions after kids begin learning about race and racism.

Raising Race Conscious Children: This blog documents thousands of specific examples of conversations parents have had with young children about race and racial justice. Topics include how to handle racism in holiday celebrations, how to talk about tricky subjects like prisons, and how to point out whiteness in children’s books and in the world around you.

Common Sense Media’s Best Movies Lists: When you’re planning your next family movie night, consider movies and shows from some of Common Sense Media’s thoroughly curated lists such as “Best Latino Movies to Watch as a Family” or “Movies & TV That Highlight the Bravery and Resilience of Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Communities.” They’re age-sorted and reviewed with diverse families in mind.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.