Age-Appropriate Lessons to Raise Anti-Racist Kids

mom reading book to her daughter

Events of 2020 and 2021 that placed anti-racism front and center have people asking themselves what they can do better. For parents, there’s an extra layer of soul searching about how to raise authentically anti-racist kids.

But practically speaking, how do you do that? What can you do to genuinely lay the groundwork for children who understand what social justice means?

“It’s a great question,” said Rachel Robertson, Bright Horizons vice president of learning and development, on our 2020 webinar, Raising Anti-Racist Kids: What to Say and Do. “You're not sitting your children down and telling them something and then it’s over,” she said. “It's about what you’re doing all the time.”

Make Anti-Racism Your Family Culture

Talking to your kids about racism represents one way you can raise anti-racist children. So, what else can you do to bring anti-racism into your child’s world? Here are five ways to get started.

Look critically at your books and toys. Families often gravitate to stories and toys that feel familiar. But that limits your children’s world view to people who look just like them. Worse, some of the old favorites we knew from childhood may actually perpetuate racial bias. Instead, look for stories like “The Snowy Day” that depict black characters doing familiar things. Likewise, choose play figurines with the same critical eye on diversity. “Diversity can be found in stories and toys,” says Rachel. “But you have to intentionally seek them out.”

Expand and broaden your circle. The same tendencies that limit what we see in playthings can also limit perspectives in real life. “Many of us live don’t live in places that organically provide multiple perspectives,” says Rachel. If yours is a homogeneous world, step out of it: attend community cultural celebrations; visit museums; expand your dining repertoire to new restaurants and foods. They key is to choose activities and ideas your family enjoys. “Do those things where you can learn about or be around people that are different,” says Rachel. “Natural relationships will evolve those experiences.”

Model critical thinking and learning. Are you uncomfortable with a situation? Do you feel you could have done something differently — or better? Don’t be shy about sharing. Thinking out loud — “I’m wondering how to answer this question?” “What’s the best way to respond to something someone just said?” — might feel silly at first. But the window into your thought process — the fact that you’re processing these things at all — shows willingness to learn, and helps children to become comfortable challenging their own thinking.

Build curiosity and empathy. Events in the news can be too big for children to grasp. Role playing takes it off the big national stage and frames it in a way children can understand. Talk about an example and act it out. Find teachable moments in books and ask children if they know what the character is thinking. More than merely explaining what racism is, such thoughtful engagement translates to how it feels, and helps children understand why anti-racism matters so much.

Tap into fairness and justice — and take action. Racial injustice doesn’t only happen on the world stage; it’s on the school bus, the playground, in class. Role playing, then, does more than just define the social, emotional, and psychological impacts of racism — but also what to do when kids encounter it. Talk together about tangible ways to stand up to discrimination and injustice — whether that means acting boldly in the face of unfairness you encounter, or exploring how to contribute to justice on a larger level.

Most of all, remember what anti-racism means: it is more than one action or a single philosophy. The act of including people is more like a language you incorporate into your vernacular — the more you speak it, the more it becomes a natural part of your family’s core and everyday life.

Teach. Play. Love. Podcast: Let’s Talk about Race

Listen to this important discussion and get advice from our early childhood experts about how you can start (and continue) the discussion of race with children of all ages.

More Anti-Racism Resources

  • Read this article for more ideas on talking to children about race.
  • What will it take to raise truly anti-racist children? Watch our panel discussion, “Raising Anti-Racist Children: What to Say and Do” to hear from our early education and diversity and inclusion experts. 
  • Looking for a list of books that help teach diversity? Take a look at our list, compiled by our Bright Horizons early education team. 

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

January 15, 2021

About the Author

Teacher reading to a toddler boy and girl

Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.