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Race

Welcome!

Interest in race and racism, diversity and inclusion is growing, but many parents and caregivers are still searching for the “right” way to introduce the conversation and to answer young children’s questions. Scroll down to explore the interactive version of “Discussing Race With Young Children.”

Why Discuss Race with Kids?

As adults, we have an opportunity to support and guide children. By listening to our children’s observations and talking openly about race, we can set children up to understand and celebrate differences. 
When we talk with our children about differences — both seen and unseen — we are helping children learn to respect and be kind to all the different people who make up their classroom, community, country, and world.
Early conversations about race can help to build children’s ability to work well with people from different backgrounds. Working collaboratively and solving problems together are skills that will benefit children as they grow up in our diverse world. 
Talking about differences helps children spot when people are being treated unfairly because of their race — and use their voice to stand up for what’s right.  
Framing conversations around a celebration of race and skin color can increase self-esteem and pride in children of color. 

Spark Conversation

Activities to Get Kids Talking

Tap on the image to start the conversation! The pictures are at the heart of this guide. They’re designed to help spark  conversations about race and racism with young children.

Slide 1 THE ACTIVITY On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Use this illustration to spark conversations with your child that celebrate the many similarities and differences in people’s appearances. Slide 2 LESSON On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences There are many ways people are different, and those differences make us special and unique! But there are also many ways that we are the same, both in how we look and what we like to do. Details Slide 3 TO BEGIN On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Explore the illustration. Encourage your child to identify the similarities and differences that they see. Ask: Can you find two kids throwing a football back and forth? It looks like they are having a lot of fun together!What are some ways they are the same or similar? What are some ways they are different? Details Slide 4 INCLUDE YOUR CHILD On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Pretend that you and your child are in the illustration. Compare yourselves to the people in the picture:
• Point to who is like you. What do you think you share in common?
• Can you point out ways these kids are different from you? Let’s talk about what you notice.
• Can you find a child who has brown skin? Tan skin? What color skin do you have?
Details
Slide 5 ADDRESS ASSUMPTIONS On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Try pointing to kids, one at a time, and asking questions like: Who do you think this child’s grown-ups are? Do you see them?
Tell your child that there are many types of families, and parents and children may not always look the same. All types of families are special and beautiful!
Slide 6 DISCUSS MELANIN On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Do you know what makes skin color the way it is? People have something called melanin in our bodies. Melanin provides “pigmentation” (or color) to our hair, skin, and eyes. The more melanin someone has in their body, the darker their hair, skin, and eyes will be. Slide 7 Create a Story On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Pick pairs of people on the playground and make up stories about them! This can help children “get to know” other people who may be similar to and different from themselves. You might start the story and encourage your child to finish it, or take turns telling stories. As you tell the story, you can naturally incorporate similarities and differences, including skin color. Here are a couple ideas to get you started: Slide 8 Create a Story On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences Pick pairs of people on the playground and make up stories about them! This can help children “get to know” other people who may be similar to and different from themselves. You might start the story and encourage your child to finish it, or take turns telling stories. As you tell the story, you can naturally incorporate similarities and differences, including skin color. Here are a couple ideas to get you started: Slide 9 Create a Story On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences There are so many different people in the world — and each of them is a potential friend! We are all unique and special. Isn’t that amazing? If everyone were the same, it would be pretty boring. We can celebrate each person for who they are!

Slide Taking Action Step by Step: Promoting Understanding Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
After discussing the picture, help your child understand that it’s important to include all children — both those who are the same and those who are different. You might ask:
• Do you have friends who are different from you in some way? Are there also ways that they are the same as you? How?
• What could we say or do to show that everyone can play together?
Slide THE ACTIVITY Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
You can use this illustration to talk about racist behaviors (e.g., someone being treated unfairly because of their skin color or other aspects of physical appearance) and how even the youngest people can speak up and help others.
Slide THE LESSON Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
When you see something that isn’t kind or fair, it’s important to speak up and say so. You can also let the people who aren’t being treated fairly know that they have friends and people who care about them, like you!
Slide TIP Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
Explore the illustration. Encourage your child to identify the similarities and differences that they see. Ask: Can you find two kids throwing a football back and forth? It looks like they are having a lot of fun together!What are some ways they are the same or similar? What are some ways they are different?
Slide TO BEGIN Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
First one can be: Explore the illustration with your child and ask what they notice. You might ask:
• What do you think the kids in the picture are saying?
• It looks like the kids might be excluding the girl because her skin or her doll’s skin color is different. • How do you think this girl feels?
• How would you feel if someone said you couldn’t play with them because you or your toy was different?
Slide Taking Action Step by Step: Creating Change Exploring Exclusion:
Standing Up for What’s Right
Now help your child think about how he or she could take action to help a friend. You might ask:
• What would you do if you saw a scene like this in our playground?
• What would you say to the girl they would not play with?
• What can we do in our home to show that everyone is welcome?

Slide 1 THE ACTIVITY Family Photos:
The Many Ways to Make a Family
You can use this collection of family photos to inspire a conversation with your child about various family structures. You can talk through questions or assumptions your child might have about families that look different from their own.
Slide 2 LESSON Family Photos:
The Many Ways to Make a Family
There are many ways to make a family! Some families may have a mommy and daddy, two mommies or two daddies, or just one parent. Some families have no siblings and some have lots of siblings. Some families have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins who live with them. Your friends’ families might be different from yours. Just like each individual person is special and unique, each family is special and unique!
Details
Slide 3 TIP Family Photos:
The Many Ways to Make a Family
You can also talk about different types of families when reading picture books or watching TV shows with your child — or in your everyday conversations about friends and neighbors.
Details
Slide 4 TO BEGIN Family Photos:
The Many Ways to Make a Family
Invite your child to look at the photos and describe what they see! You can use these prompts as ways to start the conversation:
• Tell me about this family. What do you think they are like?
• Tell me about their [skin, hair, eye] color. What do you see?
• Not all people in a family are exactly alike! How are these family members different from one another? How are they the same?
Details
Slide 5 INCLUDE YOUR CHILD Family Photos:
The Many Ways to Make a Family
Invite your child to look in the mirror or at your own family photos, and compare what they see with the people they see in the photos.
• How are you like the people you see?
• What differences do you notice?
• Look at all of these people! Point to who is like you. What is the same about you and this person?
• There are lots of ways we are different, and that makes us unique! How are these people different from you?

Slide 1 THE ACTIVITY Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Introducing kids to many cultures and celebrations gives them a wider view of the world and its many different people. This picture shows a specific cultural celebration: The Dragon Boat Festival, which is a Chinese holiday.

Children may understand one of your family’s celebrations or traditions; exposing them to another culture’s ways of celebrating can expand their worldview and help them learn about others.
Slide 2 LESSON Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! There are many types of holidays and celebrations in every culture. Even if we observe different holidays or celebrate the same holiday in different ways, the fact that we celebrate is something that makes us all similar. Details Slide 3 TIP Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Lean into your child’s natural curiosity, and encourage them to ask questions in a respectful way about something that is new to them. If there is someone who is celebrating and seems interested in sharing, encourage your child to ask if they can explain their tradition: “I’ve never seen this type of celebration. What are you celebrating?” Also consider finding books, TV shows, and digital games that model and expose children to different celebrations. Details Slide 4 TO BEGIN Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Look at the picture with your child, and ask what they notice.
• What do you think is happening in this picture?
• What are these people celebrating?
Is there anything here that you’ve never seen or done before?
• Is there anything that you see that looks familiar to you or that you’ve seen or done before?
• Would you like to try doing what the people are doing in the illustration?
Details
Slide 5 EXPLAIN THE PHOTO Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Give your child some context to help them understand what is happening in the photo.
• This is a picture of people celebrating The Dragon Boat Festival. On this yearly holiday, many Chinese people celebrate and think about people in Chinese history.
• Racing on boats is a tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival! The racers paddle to the beat of a drum.
• It is believed that members of the winning team will have good luck for the next year.
Slide 6 Include Your Child Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Help your child think about how the Dragon Boat Festival reminds him/her of familiar celebrations and activities. Ask:
• Is there someone in the picture you’d like to play with? Why?
• What foods would you want to eat?
• What are some ways we celebrate our holidays?
• Does this celebration remind you of any of our family’s celebrations or holidays?
Slide 7 Your Special Holidays and Traditions Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Ask questions to help your child think about family traditions and how they are similar and different from what’s shown in the illustration:
• What holidays do we celebrate?
• What do we eat, wear, and do during our favorite holidays? Who do we celebrate with?
• What is similar and different about the Dragon Boat Festival from holidays we celebrate?
Slide 8 Your Dragon Boat Festival Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! If you do celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, ask questions to understand your child’s experience compared to this illustration.
• How is this similar to or different from our experience celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival?
• What do we eat, wear, and do when we celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival? With whom do we celebrate?
Slide 9 Create a Story Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture! Pick people in the image and create stories about them. Here are some ideas to get you started:
• One day, a boy and his grandmother came to the park to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival…
• The children climbed into the dragon boat. One learned to paddle; one learned how to drum…
• One child was eating a zong/zongzi (a type of Chinese food) during the festival. He and a friend eating a hot dog decided to share!

The Activity THE ACTIVITY At the Doctor's Office:
Leading With Empathy
Use this illustration to spark conversations with your child that celebrate the many similarities and differences in people’s appearances.
Lesson LESSON On the Playground: Identifying Similarities and Celebrating Differences There are many ways people are different, and those differences make us special and unique! But there are also many ways that we are the same, both in how we look and what we like to do. Details Tip LESSON At the Doctor's Office:
Leading With Empathy
There are many ways people are different, and those differences make us special and unique! But there are also many ways that we are the same, both in how we look and what we like to do.
Details
To Begin TO BEGIN At the Doctor's Office:
Leading With Empathy
Explore the illustration and encourage your child to tell you what they notice. You might ask:
• Where do you think these children are?
• Let’s look at their faces and bodies. How do you think they are feeling?
• Do you go to the doctor sometimes? How do you feel when you are at the doctor’s office?
• What do your face and body look like when you feel [nervous, happy, sad, angry…]?
Details
I Spy I SPY At the Doctor's Office:
Leading With Empathy
The goal of this activity is to help children see the things they have in common with others, beyond appearances. You can use these prompts to begin a conversation that helps children relate to and empathize with one another. Encourage your child to be the leader as well and come up with their own “I spy” statements for you to find.
• I spy… kids playing with toys. Can you find them?
I • spy...kids with different feelings. What different feelings do you see?
On the Playground: Identifying Similarities & Differences
Exploring Exclusion: Standing Up for What's Right
Family Photos: The Many Ways to Make a Family
Dragon Boat Festival: Celebrating Culture
At the Doctor's Office: Leading With Empathy

Slide Pace yourself.

Discussing race and racism is not a one-time conversation.
Remind your child that they are not in this alone.

When we all work together, we can make a positive change.
Be a role model.

Kids are watching. Show that YOU celebrate differences through your words and actions.

Talking about Race?

Celebrate differences as well as similarities.

Learning about others and celebrating similarities and differences helps us understand what makes our community and world amazing.

Hover or Tap the Icons To Get Tips
for Conversations With Young Children

Start with, and come back to, identity.
This helps us understand ourselves, and helps us see how we fit into our big, diverse world.
Use the words.

Help your child learn the vocabulary they’ll need to express what they see in the world.
Actively listen to your child.

Listening to your child's point of view will help you to understand their thinking, so that you can respond in a relatable way.
Be mindful of your own feelings.

Take the time you need for self-reflection and self-care.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings.

Start with, and come back to, identity. This helps us understand ourselves, and helps us see how we fit into our big, diverse world.

Just the Facts

This Guide is Rooted in Research

To inform the creation of this guide, we worked with top researchers and surveyed 15,000 families from across the United States to better understand how they approach conversations on race and racism.

Children start noticing race during infancy.
Between 6 and 12 months, babies begin to show a preference for members of their own racial groups (source). By 9 months old, infants looked longer at own‐race faces paired with happy music than at own‐race faces paired with sad music (source). From their earliest age, children are picking up on status from the culture around them (source).
Parents Think Kids Aren't Ready

U.S. adults underestimate kids’ ability to understand and talk about race. Grown-ups say children develop the capacity to process and understand race at around age 5, but research shows most are capable of understanding and talking about race as toddlers. This misjudging of children’s capacity has an impact on when parents start talking about race/racism with their children (source).

"There are potentially years during which kids are starting to think about race and coming to their own impressions of what it means before parents broach the topic. It’s a missed opportunity for parents to help frame that discussion in constructive ways."

Dr. Evan Apfelbaum, Boston University

 “The fear of talking about race makes parents avoid talking about it at all. But you can’t just react to situations as they arise or wait for your kids to ask questions. You need to be intentional about what you want your kids to know about race."

Dr. Diane Hughes, NYU

Read Together

Books to Spark Discussion

The Day You Begin
Your Name Is a Song
The Proudest Color
The Undefeated
Isabel and her Colores Go to School
A Place Inside of Me
Thanks to our friends at First Book for sharing these titles!

Parenting With A Big Heart

Real parents share their stories from their families related to identity, race, and racism. What happened? What did they say? What did they do? What did they learn? And what questions remain?

Winnie
Anya Kamenetz Parenting With a Big Heart
To Every Mom

Defining Identity, Race, and Racism

Identity is what makes me me and what makes you you. Cooking or baking analogies can help children to understand identity. You might say, “All of the special ingredients in a chocolate chip cookie make it unique and special! Every single person is unique and special, too. The ingredients that make each of us unique form our identity.” You might then invite your child to write or draw different aspects of their identity, such as what they like and don’t like, what they look like, their family and cultural background, and their family traditions. You can use tools like My Big Heart: An All About Me Coloring Book to help your child explore identity. Helping children explore their own identity helps them to understand that race is just one of the things that defines them.

You could say something like, “Race is one part of our identity. Race can mean lots of things, but it usually means how people look — such as the color of their skin, the way their hair feels and looks, and things like different shapes of noses and eyes. We all look different and sometimes this is because of our race. Isn’t it cool that we all look different?” You could talk about your family’s race, and the different races of friends or characters from favorite stories to help your child understand the idea. 

You could start by referencing a situation in which something was unfair (even if it wasn’t related to race), such as two kids not getting the same amount of ice cream. You could then say something like, “Sometimes people are treated unfairly. It can be on purpose or by accident. Either way, it doesn’t make people feel good!” You can then explain that sometimes people are not treated fairly because of the color of their skin; that is called racism. Make it clear to your child that people are equal and all people should be treated equally, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics. Over time, you can empower your child to be an upstander who stands up for him/herself or others who are facing bias or racism. 

Terms to Learn & Use

Use these terms alongside this guide in conversations with your child.

Slide Asian Americans are Americans who are of Asian ancestry (e.g., people from China, India, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia). The term was created by Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee in 1968 to unify Asian ethnicity groups. Pacific Islanders are people with origins in Polynesia, Melanesia, or Micronesia (e.g., Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Guamanians, Fijians). AAPI Slide A person who speaks up, stands up, or takes action to support other people. Ally/Upstander Slide An abbreviation for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. BIPOC Slide A racial classification of people often used to describe people who are thought to have dark skin or ancestry (family) from Africa. The Black community consists of many different communities, skin tones, histories, and rich ancestral backgrounds. Black/African American Slide The distinctive customs, values, beliefs, knowledge, art, and language of a society or a community. These values and concepts are often passed on from generation to generation, and they are the basis for everyday behaviors and practices.
Culture
Slide Unfair, negative treatment of a certain group of people. This may involve people being treated unfairly as a result of their race, ethnicity, language, age, country of origin, or other aspects of identity. Discrimination Slide Ethnicity is a term used for a group of people who share a similar cultural background and are oftentimes from the same country or region. They tend to share traditions, history, religion, language, and similar cultural values and practices. Ethnicity Slide Hispanic refers to people who come from Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain and Latin American countries, such as El Salvador. Hispanic Slide Originally from (native to) a particular place. Indigenous Slide Latino refers to people from Latin America. Some Latin American countries include Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Cuba. Not all people from Latin America speak Spanish; some may speak Portuguese or indigenous languages like Quechua. Latinx or Latine is a gender inclusive term that is an alternative to Latino or Latina. People who are from a Spanish-speaking country that is not in Latin America, like Spain, are considered Hispanics but not Latinos.
Latino/a/x/e
Slide Melanin is a pigment in the body that makes our hair, skin, and eye color appear darker when we have more of it and lighter when we have less of it. The more melanin someone has in their body, the darker their features will be. Melanin Slide Unfair and negative opinions of a certain group of people that are based on limited or no information. Prejudice is when people hold thoughts about a group of people without knowing the whole group, or when we expect someone to be a certain way because they are part of a group. Prejudice Slide People are categorized into racial groups based on their physical appearance (skin color, hair type, facial features), and those socially defined categories have important meaning. Race is not to be confused with ethnicity; your race is determined by how you look, while your ethnicity is determined based on the social and cultural groups you belong to. Race / Racial Group Slide Racism is the belief that some races are better than others and the societal systems and patterns that advantage or give benefits to some races and not to others. Racism Slide A stereotype is an expectation that people from the same ethnic, racial, or religious group will act the same way or have the same characteristics. Stereotypes can be positive or negative beliefs about a group of people. Stereotype

Experts Talk Race

Dr. Anderson

I’m excited that you’re going to be able to practice with your family, with this guide, and it’ll create for you a hunger to practice and to do this work in the future.” — Dr. Riana Elyse Anderson

Dr. Banks

You can build your confidence for those unscripted questions that come your way. And believe me, they will come your way.”  — Dr. Kira Banks

Dr. Cheah

“This guide can help by providing different tools to support you in this process. And it IS a process.”  — Dr. Charissa Cheah

This guide accompanies us as we play, listen, and learn with our children. I am sure that in these conversations and guides, you will come up with even more questions — but you will also learn something new and feel supported. This is not easy work, but with help like this guide provides, it can be beautiful, fun, and rewarding.

— Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith

Keep Talking & Learning!

Spending time exploring this guide is just the beginning! You can keep talking, observing, and learning together with your child — through the books you read, the people you meet, the activities you do and the conversations you have. Here are a few activity prompts from Big Heart World that can keep the learning going in your family: 

"Celebrate Our Difference" Lyric Coloring Book
Listen to the song "Celebrate Our Difference" from Noggin's Big Heart Beats Album and color in this lyric coloring book about similarities and differences.
Hi Baby
Getting to Know You: Getting to know new people helps young children understand that there are many different kinds of people in the world — and that each person deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.
Community Colors
What Colors Are In Your Skin? Talking about our different skin colors with children is an opportunity to discuss important topics like inclusivity and being an upstander!
Community Colors
Join the Big Heart World Community Colors Project to talk about all the different colors of us ... and what those different skin tones mean to people.
Upstanders' Club
Upstanders' Club: Using your voice to stand up for what’s right can be hard, especially when it feels like you’re alone. Having a group of friends — like Noggin’s Big Heart Kids — who all agree to be upstanders together can make it easier for everyone.
Sign Language
Sign Language: There’s a lot of “wrong” in the world that we can help right. A great way that children can show what they care about is by making signs or posters expressing their points of view and how they feel.

Families: Download & Discuss the Guide!

Download and print a PDF file of “Discussing Race With Young Children: A Step-by-Step Activity Guide.”

It contains the illustrations, definitions, and much more that you can use to prompt meaningful conversations in your family!

Coming Soon!

Educators: Discuss Race in Your Classroom

Visit our Race Guide Educator Companion, which can help you use the illustrations and other content with students 2-6 years old in your classroom. 

Your Feedback Matters!

We created this guide for YOU and are eager to hear about your experiences.