Discussing Race with Kids

Our research-based tips on how to start discussions on race with young children using children’s books.

We are determined to give our son and daughter, who have lovely caramel skin and curly black hair, a strong, positive self-identity and a strong sense of the beauty of all skin shades, ethnic looks and family structures.

To be honest, we’re often confused and nervous about how to best do this. There is a lot of racism, both implicit and explicit, in our society, and we know we will not be able to protect them from it.

In fact, our three-year-old recently saw a picture of a laughing, white-skinned, blonde girl and asked, “Mommy, when can I look like that?” No one has ever said to her that white-skinned people are “more beautiful,” but she has already learned it from images and messages that surround her.

We are committed not just to rejecting racism but affirmatively projecting positive images of all young people so our children will know their immense worth. 

All of our research has pointed towards books as a critical way to help create positive racial identity. We read a lot to our children and use books to highlight the beauty of people of all shades. We want more books to help us do that - that’s one of the main reasons we started Loving Lion Books. 

Below, we’ve boiled down our research on how to best do this - actionable steps you can take while reading a Loving Lion Book or other treasured stories with your children.

  • Find books with kids of all shades (Loving Lion Books is working to make this easier!).
  • Highlight how physically beautiful people of all shades are. Point to people of color and say, “She/he is beautiful! I love her/his brown skin,” or “Wow, she has the same beautiful skin shade as you! You guys are both so lucky.” It might feel awkward  at first, but it needs to be that overt to combat the implicit and explicit negative messages kids see and hear about skin color.
  • Point to characters of color and highlight what good people they are.  Say, “She seems like such a nice person” or “Wow, what a kind mommy." Use any expression that puts people of color in the wonderful lights they deserve to be shown.
  • Answer questions honestly. The fact that we come in different skin tones and looks is genetic, not political. “His skin is beautiful dark brown because his mommy and daddy had beautiful dark brown skin.” Or “Her hair is beautiful with big curls because she got lucky to be born with it. We are all lucky to be born the way we are born, and we’re all a little differently beautiful and all a little the same beautiful.” 
  • Talk about the story afterwards and talk about skin color when you do. “I love that the little girl had aunts and uncles with brown skin like ours. What a fun, beautiful family.”
  • Reinforce these messages through billboards, conversations, and all other media, with similar messages as above. You can point out the lack of positive representation of people of color too - “All of these dolls have beautiful white skin, but I wish there were dolls with beautiful brown skin too - I love people with all skin colors.” Or “I liked that show about the white-skinned scientists, they were such important people in history, and I wish we saw all of the scientists with beautiful brown skin who just as important in history in that same show.”
  • Give children crayons with different skin-colored tones. Have them choose their tone and the tones of their friends, family, favorite characters, etc.
  • Keep at it. We are all receiving negative messages about people with brown skin-tone daily. The more we highlight beautiful messages about skin-tone the better for our children and our world.

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