Patient EducationFeb | 15 | 2021
Talking About Race and Racism with Children
How early is too early to talk about race and racism?
There is no such thing as too early to talk about race and culture! Keep information appropriate for your child’s age. Even very young children recognize differences between themselves and other people. You can help by acknowledging and celebrating differences. You can also help by clearing up misunderstandings.
What are some ways I can talk to my child about race and racism?
- Use books, toys, and media to start conversations. This can help normalize (make normal) differences in your household and community.
- Remember that representation matters! This means it is important for children to see people who look like them in their community or in the media. Help your children see themselves, as well as other races and cultures in the toys and books you bring home.
- Emphasize respect for all people and what we can learn from others.
- Share your own culture. You can do this through music, dance, language, or food. You can also share family conversations or attend plays, performances and trips to museums.
What if my child says something embarrassing in public?
- Resist the urge to shush or ignore your child. This teaches children that differences are something to be whispered about, embarrassing or bad.
- If your child asks a question or points out a difference they notice, respond in a matter of fact and positive tone. If possible, pair differences with shared interests or similarities.
For example, you could say “You’re right, your friend Jason does have darker skin than you do. That is one way that you are different! You are different in some ways, and you are alike in so many other ways!”
What if my child has experienced racism?
- Thank your child for sharing their experiences with you.
- Provide comfort in a way that is meaningful to your child.
- Ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question lets your child talk through or explain their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
- Examples of open-ended questions include: “What happened?”, “Why do you think that happened?”, “How did it make you feel?”.
- Give your child time to respond. Resist the temptation to solve the problem and listen to your child’s responses.
- Reassure your child that what happened was not their fault. Remind them that they are not alone. If you feel comfortable, share an example of something that happened to you, how you responded at the time and how you might respond if it happened now.
- Come up with a plan together to address the concern. This may involve telling another trusted adult or having a conversation with the person with racist behavior.
- In case of future incidents, help your child find the helpers in their life. Helpers are people in your child’s life who can educate, advocate (stand up for) or protect. Helpers may include family members, teachers, healthcare providers or community leaders.
- Remember that it is normal to be upset when you hear your child struggle. It is okay to show your child that you have strong feelings just like them.
Using books to talk about race, culture and racism
- Reading and RES: Choosing and Using Books to Discuss Race and Ethnicity
A guide from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on how to choose appropriate books. It also includes tips on how to use books to talk about race, racial justice and culture.
- Anti-racist children’s books
List of recommended books about embracing and understanding different races and cultures from “The Conscious Kid.”
Selected resources for children and families
Videos for children
- “The Power of We” (Sesame Street)
Four friends learn about their own racial identities and skin colors. They also learn what it means to feel proud of their own identities. Racial identity relates to how a person identifies themselves and how others may perceive them in terms of race. A person’s racial identity depends on their family history, culture and ethnicity. Sesame Street has many other resources around race and racism.
- “Arthur Takes a Stand” (PBS Kids)
Arthur meets civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. He learns how to stand up for someone experiencing unfairness.
Organizations for families to learn more about race
- Embrace Race
An online community that includes webinars, media recommendations and other resources to help parents to raise and support children who are resilient (able to adapt to and cope with stress in healthy ways) and brave about race.
Resources on racism and your health
Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital
- Your healthcare team. Discuss your specific needs with your care team. If needed, request that they refer you to additional resources.
- Mental Health Resources for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). This is a collection of therapists who are comfortable talking about how race affects your mood, online support groups and self-guided virtual resources.
- Office of Patient Advocacy. Everyone at Mass General and MGfC hopes you never have to experience racism and discrimination while at the hospital or one of the outpatient clinics. If you do have this experience, please call the Office of Patient Advocacy at 617-726-3370.
Joining an advocacy organization can be a powerful way to fight racism and build community. An advocacy organization tries to stand up for and makes political or social changes in their community, state or country. There are many great community organizations you can get involved with. Below are just some examples:
- City Life Vida Urbana helps people stay in their homes by uniting community members to fight evictions, racism, and economic injustice. If you are facing eviction, call 617-934-5006 or 617-397-3773 (Spanish)
- Matahari Women’s Workers Center brings together women workers (including nannies, house cleaners, home health aides, and restaurant workers) to fight for labor rights, oppose wage theft and build community across race, ethnicity, and multiple languages.
- The MassCosh Immigrant Worker Center is a safe place for immigrants to speak up about workplace abuse and join with a powerful network of workers demanding safe, healthy working conditions. If you are facing exploitation or discrimination in your workplace, call 617-505-8939 or 617-505-8940.
- Student Immigrant Movement is a Massachusetts-based youth-led organization bringing together young people to discover new opportunities and to grow as leaders in our communities. SIM supports immigrant and non-immigrant youth alike through 1-on-1 peer mentoring, providing safe spaces, specialized programs, and grassroots organizing training.
The resources below are places where you can report instances of racism that have happened to you or someone in your family.
- Attorney General’s Office
The Attorney General’s Office speaks up for and provides resources for people in Massachusetts, including those who experience racism and discrimination.
To report discrimination, call 617-727-8400 or visit the Attorney General's Office website.
- Boston Public Schools
To report racism in Boston Public Schools, visit the district's website. Click on “Report a Biased Based or Sexual Misconduct Incident.”
- Greater Boston Legal Services
To speak to a lawyer about discrimination you have experienced, contact Greater Boston Legal Services at 617-371-1234 or visit the GBLS website.
- Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination aims to end discrimination in Massachusetts.
To file a report, visit the Commission's website.
- State Department of Education
To report racism in schools that has not been resolved at the local level, call the State Department of Education at 781-338-3000. File a complaint on the Department of Education's website.
Rev. 6/2021. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.
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