‘Children are not color blind’: Psychologist suggests now is a good time to talk to kids about racism

MADISON, Wis. — With the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, racial tensions are high. As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country, doctors suggest parents take this as an opportunity to talk to their children about racism.

“Race has been somewhat of a taboo topic in white circles, and yet this is really an unprecedented time,” said SSM Health Psychologist Kathleen Hipke. “But this is a point when a lot of conversations could start.”

She said often times parents think their children are too young for such a negative topic, or the emotion will be too much for them to handle, but that’s not true.

“Children are not color blind. From infancy really, children start to be able to differentiate those around them based on race. And by pre-school, they’re very curious. By kindergarten they’re making some pretty clear decisions about playing with kids who look like them, particularly the white children. So if we’re not having conversations, even at a very early age, then basically what we’re saying is we’re going to kind of let that external environment shape children’s beliefs,” said Hipke.

Parents can help shape their children’s beliefs by having these sometimes uncomfortable conversations early and often.

She said parents shouldn’t worry about saying the perfect thing. What’s more important is learning together. Hipke suggests doing that by reading storybooks, and watching TV shows and movies that show families and cultures that look different than your own.

Earlier this month, Sesame Street had a special episode where Elmo talked to his dad about racism.

“Racism is when people treat other people unfairly because of the way they look or the color of their skin,” Louie told Elmo.

Hipke said while some parents may try to shield their children from current events that they feel may be scary or hard to discuss, children are very intuitive and will pick up on the tension and emotion their parents may be feeling.

By talking to children about what’s happening, parents can help them name those feelings instead of letting them try to figure it out on their own.

She suggested using resources from Embrace the Race. The website has recent articles on the talk White parents should be having with their kids, and recommends a list of picture books to help start the conversation.

Hipke said it’s ok to tell your child “This is hard, and I don’t have all of the answers. Let’s learn more about this together.” It can be a powerful way to build trust and show children that we are always learning from one another.