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Embrace Race: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Prejudice

It’s never too early to teach kids tolerance—especially in regards to race. But many parents don’t know how to address this tough but meaningful topic. According to experts, it comes down to age-appropriate communication, leading by example, and ensuring the conversation is open and ongoing. Keep reading for even more tips on raising race-conscious children.

“Before you begin a conversation with your child, think about where you stand on the issue of race. Reflect on any biases you may have and think about the example that you’re setting. Make changes, if needed, and research information about other cultures to educate yourself about the rich history of all the diverse people around you.”Nkechi Nzerem-Johnson, MD, a pediatrician with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group

Evaluate your own belief system and mindset. Modeling with your actions is one of the most important aspects of parenting. If you aren’t aware of your blind spots (unintentional or intentional) it will affect the way your children view the world.”—Ashlee Janzen, MS, LMFT,

A wonderful resource and book to share with children is Bread is a Simple Food: Teaching Children about Cultures. The author, Cherry Steinwender, shows children the diversity of bread from cultures around the world, but explains that they are all bread, [which helps children internalize the oneness of the human family].”—Jan Merrill, Vice President, Racial Healing Project,

 “Older children often look to the adults in their lives to see how race is handled. Do you have friends of different races? Are prejudice statements made in generality about ‘all those people?’ Are the same courtesies extended to all races? Are people looked at as individuals rather than stereotypes? This is where actions speak louder than words. Strike up conversations with people who are different from you, learn their stories, and share them with your kids. Confront a negative racist statement in front of your children and explain why you did it.—Nancy Ryan, LMFT,

Teach your children to love and respect others, always be kind, and treat others the way they would like to be treated. Let them know that it’s okay to notice that [people are] different on the outside, but explain that despite our differences we’re all human beings who deserve love and respect. Empower your children to know that they can help change the world by speaking out against racism.”Nkechi Nzerem-Johnson, MD, a pediatrician with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group

Take time as a family to learn something about a different culture or ethnic group. This should be done diligently—watching a TV show with a minority cast or dining out at an ethnic restaurant doesn’t [count]. Instead, find out why they prepare and cook their dishes as they do, which will lead to a conversation about cultural acceptance and talking about race. If you live in a diverse neighborhood, get to know someone different from you by introducing yourself as a family and asking questions.—Rashad Baadqir, Sacramento State lecturer in the Department of Ethnic Studies; executive director of the Center Pointe Initiative on Race and Culture Dialogue Project

“Children learn most when a situation is relatable. Age-appropriate books that address the importance of race, inclusion, and the beauty of diversity can help explain the concepts in language that makes sense to them. Real-life experiences are also a great teaching opportunity.”—Ashlee Janzen, MS, LMFT,

“For a child under six years old, when they notice someone with a different skin color, say something like: ‘Yes, we have different skin as people, just like there are different types of flowers. It's nice to have different colors.’ A child between the ages of 7-10 begins to notice similarities and differences, as they learn how to group things in school. Remind them that just because people fit into one group because of one characteristic that they also have similarities with another group. For example, ‘Yes, your friend at school may have a different skin tone, but you both like to run and play sports.’"—Nancy Ryan, LMFT, 

Answer your children’s questions as openly and honestly as possible using age-appropriate language. If they’re not asking questions, you can start a conversation by asking what their thoughts are about what they have seen.”Nkechi Nzerem-Johnson, MD, a pediactrician with Dignity Health Mercy Medical Group

One of the best experiences of my daughter's life was having a Japanese exchange student. We experienced a different race and culture firsthand, including customs and food. Hate is taught—along with acceptance, love, and belonging. We can all do a better job.”—Nancy Ryan, LMFT, 

by  Megan Wiskus