transracial adoption

How to talk to your child about racism: from starting the conversation to maintaining a continued conversation throughout childhood

In society we often look to teachers, politicians, or religious leaders to eliminate racism. Racism is all around us. It exists whether we consciously see it or not. Racism can been seen on the television, in the media, in our neighborhood and in our everyday life. We have learned about it in school, and grew up being taught that racism is bad. For many, even talking about race makes them uncomfortable. Saying the word “racism” its self sounds racist. It is an ugly word that leaves many avoiding the topic all together, or in the opposite extreme believe that being colorblind is the answer. It is important for all parents to talk about race and racism especially in families formed through transracial adoption.

The truth is racism exists, even in today’s society. Your child will unfortunately at some point be exposed to it. While you may not be able to stop that from happening, you can ease them in to the subject, and prepare them for tough situations that they may face.

Some parents believe that if they practice “colorblindness” their child will grow up accepting the differences between their peers automatically. When most parents use that term, what they mean is that their love and actions are not defined by the race however by not seeing race, transracial adoptive parents are not seeing a piece of who their child, and now their family is. Here is a link to an article stating why the practice of colorblindness is no longer a way to teach your child about racism. Children notice race. It is a physical characteristic, only one of many, that helps to make up who a person is and so teaching children to be colorblind in essence ignoring race and the issues surrounding race can actually be harmful.

Your child should hear about racism, before they are directly exposed to it. If parents neglect to speak on this issue, the child could fill in the blanks with their own naive meaning of racism. This could later lead to negative self-esteem, with a loss sense of belonging.

The first step is starting the conversation. It may seem like a sensitive, intimidating subject (like the birds and the bees talk) but, like many things, the more you talk about racism with your child, the easier the conversation becomes.

So, let’s get started!

Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started:

  • Don’t ignore the difference. For example, you can tell your child that “you are athletic just like mommy” or “your good at math just like daddy” to help them see the similarities between you. As well as sharing the similarities between you, let your child see the differences too. You can point out that she has beautiful brown skin, while yours is lighter in color. You can extend the differences outside of your family and take a look at members of your church or community. Have dolls of all types of races and ethnicities not just the ones representing your family. It is important to show your child how beautiful your differences are and celebrate them. It could be something as simple as a food that you love, but your child doesn’t. Make the differences as accepting and normal as the similarities that your family shares.
  • Give words their meaning. It is important in the beginning stages of your conversations about racism to put meaning behind words. Describe family members and friends as White, Asian, or African American. Also explain words like stereotypes and prejudice. This will help introduce these complicated concepts to your child.
  • Teach them positive racial concepts. Society & the media paint many pictures of race and racism. It is important for you to teach your child positive racial concepts at an early age, when race begins to register.
  • Visit our blog to learn how to handle different forms of stereotypes
  • Responding to differences. It is important to also teach your child how to respond to the differences that some may point out to him/her. If a classmate points out a difference and she is prepared with an answer, it will eliminate some self consciousness that they may feel. Role-playing different scenarios is a great way to give your child the tools to respond to classmates questions of difference.
  • Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. If your child experiences insensitive racial comments don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Take time to give your child a calm, mature, and informative response. This will show your child how to handle these kinds of situations.

So, now that the hard part is over…..

Here are 4 ways to talk to your child about racism

  • Don’t be too direct. Coming right out and asking your child if they have experienced racism could cause your child to pull back and feel uncomfortable. Instead of outwardly asking, bring up a race related topic in the news, and discuss it. This opens up a conversation and allows your child to come to you with questions or issues.
  • Talk about other families. It is important for your child to understand that not all families have the same values as yours. Not every family that your child meets will be accepting of your family dynamic. Talking about this and pointing out that “some children grow up being afraid of people who are different” and using phrases like “isn’t that sad” or “I’m glad our family isn’t like that” will help him/her understand this concept.
  • Racism isn’t their fault. To a child, being teased of differences such as skin color, hair style, or the difference of your family compared to others could leave them asking “what is wrong with me.” If this occurs, emphasize that it is in no way shape or form your child’s fault. Point out that the person doing the teasing is just one person’s bad behavior – not all people think that way.
  • Be a role model. Most importantly, be an advocate and a role model. Show your child that you have family, friends, even role models of your own from all different backgrounds. Show them that you accept the differences in people and reassure your child of their place in this world. Give them the tools to overcome racism and not let it define them, teach your children to challenge racism and lead by example.
  • Help your child be an advocate. Differences come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited to race. Helping to establish a trait of acceptance in your child may help them be an advocate for others who may be treated unfairly because of their differences. For example a child being bullied or the man down the block who is in a wheelchair or the Asian student who is new in class.

AA ISTOCK - AA girl and C girl hugging

Now that you have the tools to start the conversation and keep the conversations going, visit our website and blog to read more on how to help school aged children deal with racism.


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