How young is too young to start talking about race? Check out these resources and children’s books.
Southwest Human Development’s core values uphold the dignity and worth of each individual and the communities in which they live—a commitment that has never wavered. A pillar of these values is our promise to promote social justice through diversity, equity and inclusiveness.
During this profound moment when we are seeing widespread community activism and support to protect and defend diversity, equity and inclusion, we acknowledge the injustices that have been experienced by so many in our country for far too long. This is a time for reflection and a commitment to change. We recognize that it takes all of us doing our individual parts to collectively make a real, sustainable impact.
In the midst of nationwide discussions of race, racism and creating a more equitable society, many parents are wondering how to discuss race with their children. Talking about race is challenging for many parents. Some parents may feel that by bringing up race, they are prolonging the existence of racism. Others may believe that by ignoring race, we can raise children who are “color-blind.”
Many parents just don’t know where to start and some don’t want to scare their children by talking about such a serious topic, but studies show that children do recognize race and start to form biases early in life.
BIRTH: “At birth, babies look equally at faces of all races. At 3 months, babies look more at faces that match the race of their caregivers. (Kelly et al. 2005)”
AGE 2: “Children as young as two years use race to reason about people’s behaviors. (Hirschfeld, 2008)”
AGE 2 1/2: “By 30 months, most children use race to choose playmates. (Katz & Kofkin, 1997)”
AGES 4-5: “Expressions of racial prejudice often peak at ages 4 and 5. (Aboud, 2008)”
AGE 5: “By five, Black and Latinx children in research settings show no preference toward their own groups compared to Whites; White children at this age remain strongly biased in favor of whiteness. (Dunham et al, 2008)”
KINDERGARTEN: “By kindergarten, children show many of the same racial attitudes that adults in our culture hold—they have already learned to associate some groups with higher status than others. (Kinzler, 2016)”
AGES 5-7: “Explicit conversations with 5–7 year olds about interracial friendship can dramatically improve their racial attitudes in as little as a single week. (Bronson & Merryman, 2009)”
Raising children to understand the values of diversity, equity and inclusion can be daunting to think about, but it’s important for parents and caregivers to remember that they’re not alone. Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline has early childhood experts ready to speak with you about any questions or concerns you have around this topic and many others. Open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Birth to Five Helpline can be reached by calling or texting 877-705-KIDS (5437). The call and support are free.
Our recommended children’s book list
If you’re looking for some great children’s books to help facilitate a conversation with your child, our early language and literacy experts have put together a list of books that can help parents discuss issues relating to race, diversity and social justice as a whole. It is important to offer young children books that represent their own backgrounds, but also show those who are different from them to help foster positive attitudes towards diversity.
I Look Up To… Malala Yousafzai: It’s never too early to introduce your child to the people you admire—such as Malala Yousafzai, the activist for girls’ education and Nobel Peace Prize winner! This board book distills Malala’s excellent qualities into an eminently shareable read-aloud text with graphic, eye-catching illustrations.
All Are Welcome: Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
I Am Enough: This gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another comes from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.
Happy In Our Skin: Is there anything more splendid than a baby’s skin? Cocoa-brown, cinnamon, peaches and cream. As children grow, their clever skin does, too, enjoying hugs and tickles, protecting them inside and out, and making them one of a kind. Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family — and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.
We’re Different, We’re the Same: Who better than Sesame Street to teach us that we may all look different on the outside—but it’s important to remember that deep down, we are all very much alike.Elmo and his Sesame Street friends help teach toddlers and the adults in their lives that everyone is the same on the inside, and it’s our differences that make this wonderful world, which is home to us all, an interesting—and special—place. This enduring, colorful, and charmingly illustrated book offers an easy, enjoyable way to learn about differences—and what truly matters. It is an engaging read for toddlers and adults alike.
Alma and How She Got Her Name / Alma y como obtuvo su nombre: If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.
Here are some more resources that you may find useful:
- How to Talk Honestly With Children About Racism, PBS Kids
- Your Age-by-Age Guide to Talking About Race, Kara Corridan and Wanda Medina
- Talking to Children About Racial Bias, Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, MSHS, FAAP & Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP
- 7 Things to Do When Your Kid Points Out Someone’s Differences, Rachel Garlinghouse.
- Talking With Children About Racism, Police Brutality and Protests, Laura Markham.
All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.