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Resources
for schools & parents

Talking About Race And Ethnicity With Children & Teens

Following the horrific death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have been asked for advice on how to talk to children and teenagers about racism.  I do not think there is any point in reinventing the wheel so I have included this advice from Unicef, the United Nations children’s agency.  Before heading into it though, I think it is important to understand that children take their lead from us.  No-one is born a racist, it is a position we adopt, and tiny throw away comments made by adults can be instrumental in defining a child’s views.  We must be so mindful of the messages we overtly or sometimes, covertly give them.

Unfortunately, the study of Black British History and our British Colonialist past is not compulsory in schools, meaning it is down to us as parents to make sure our children get a balanced view. I have also included a list of books that might help you have more informed conversations.

Under five years old:

  • Use language that’s age-appropriate and easy for them to understand. Recognise and celebrate differences.
  • Be open – make it clear you are open to your children’s questions. If they point out people who look different avoid shushing them or they will start to believe that it’s a taboo topic.
  • Use fairness – it’s a concept those around five tend to understand quite well. Talk about racism as unfair.

Six to 11 years old:

  • They are also becoming more exposed to information they may find hard to process. Be curious. Listening and asking questions is the first step.
  • Discuss the media together – social media and the internet may be one of your children’s main sources of information.
  • Talk openly – having honest and open discussions about racism, diversity and inclusivity builds trust. It encourages them to come to you with questions and worries.

12+ years:

  • Teenagers are able to understand abstract concepts more clearly and express their views. Find out what they know. What have they heard on the news, at school, from friends?
  • Ask questions about what they think about things such as news events and introduce different perspectives to help expand their understanding.
  • Encourage action.

Useful Books

It’s important to surround children with positive narratives and images of different ethnicities. Children’s books can be a great starting point for doing this.

1-3 years:

M is For Melanin: A Celebration Of The Black Child by Tiffany Rose – M Is for Melanin is an empowering alphabet book that teaches kids their ABCs and celebrates Black children!

3-6 years:

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o – this is a children’s fiction picture book that follows the story of a young girl who wishes for her skin to be lighter. The story is about colourist and learning to love yourself.

6-10 years:

My Divided Family by Diane Guerrero – Diane Guerrero presents her personal story in this middle-grade memoir about her parents’ deportation and the nightmarish struggles of undocumented immigrants and their American children.

Malcom Little by Ilyasah Shabazz – This picture book tells the story of a little boy called Malcolm. It’s a wonderful book that celebrates a vision of freedom and justice.

8-12 Years:

Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History by Vashti Harrison – An important book for readers of all ages, this beautifully written book tells the true stories of black women in history.

Little Leaders: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison – An important book for readers of all ages, this wonderfully illustrated and beautifully written book tells the true stories of black men in history.

Let us Shine by Andrea Davis Pinkney – this book follows the incredible lives of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Shirley Chisholm. It’s an incredible story about courage in the face of oppression; about the challenges and triumphs of the battle for civil rights; and about speaking out for what you believe in.

Teens:

In The Time Of The Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – This is a historical fiction novel relating an account of the Mirabal sisters during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward – This novel follows the story of a working-class African-American family in Mississippi as they prepare for Hurricane Katrina.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – This novel tells the story of a young African-American girl named Pecola who grows up during the years following the Great Depression.

All Ages:

I Am Enough by Grace Byers: This is a lovely, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another. A must read poem!

If you are looking for some more suggestions, I suggest you have a look at the Colours of Us page – they have a host of multicultural children’s books!

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