Raising Your Children to Be Anti-Racist

Reading antiracism books to your children

 Verywell / Catherine Song

The protests sparked by recent police killings of Black lives and the Black Lives Matter movement have led many people to think about their own beliefs and behaviors with regards to race, bias, and racism. For many parents, this also includes thinking about what they can do to raise children who are anti-racist. 

As a parent, you want to raise your kids to grow up to be empathetic, kind, and socially conscious people. However, it has become clear to many that the approach they’ve been taking towards race—often an approach that echoes the way they themselves were raised—is simply not enough.

It can be a challenging subject and many parents are not sure how to approach it. More importantly, they may not be sure what steps to take to make sure that their own children grow up to oppose racism.

So what can parents do to raise children who are anti-racist?

Understand the Importance of Anti-Racism

Parents play a pivotal role in shaping their children’s views on race.

Research suggests that kids begin forming their views on race as early as six months and that many of their ideas are set by around age 12.

Such findings suggest that there is a critical window of time in which parents can help influence their child’s beliefs and behaviors. Fortunately, there are a number of actions you can take that will help your child learn to challenge biases and be anti-racist. 

"Not Racist" vs. Anti-Racist

It is important to recognize the distinction between being “not racist” and being anti-racist. In a segment with NPR, anti-racist scholar Ibram X. Kendi explained that parents who raise kids to be "not racist" sometimes tend to avoid conversations about race altogether. Rather than discussing things like racial differences, disparities, and the effects of racism, parents sidestep these conversations entirely.

Parents who take this approach tend to think that by keeping kids away from racial discussions or acts of overt racism, they are preventing kids from becoming racist.

The problem is that kids instead learn about race and racism from society — and all too often that society is steeped in racial biases.

Kids are often left to figure these things out on their own, which may mean absorbing negative racial stereotypes from the media or adopting the racial attitudes of their peers.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Children begin noticing race-based differences as early as six months.
  • By the ages of two to four, kids are already starting to internalize racial biases.
  • By the time kids reach age 12, their attitudes about race become more firmly established.

In one study published in the journal Child Development, researchers found that babies began to show a preference for adults of the same race as young as six months of age.

Such findings suggest that racial bias begins early in life and points to the critical role of anti-racist parenting and education in order to combat and reduce the prevalence of racism.

Be a Good Role Model

One important step in raising anti-racist kids is to make sure that you are upholding anti-racist ideals in your own life. It is essential to model the kinds of behaviors and beliefs that you want to see in your child. The following are some steps that you can take on your own anti-racist journey.

Examine Your Biases

Everyone has biases — it’s just part of how the brain operates. Our brains are hard-wired to notice differences in the world around us, including differences in people. In our evolutionary past, noticing these differences could be the key to survival. The biases we have today are operating on this same internal system — which is why they are often so hard to spot and challenge.

The problem is that many of these implicit biases are so insidious that we don’t even notice them. In order to overcome these biases, it is essential to reflect on the ideas we have about race and how they might influence our actions.

Once you understand some of your own biases, you can start taking steps to actively challenge them.

Inform Yourself 

In addition to acknowledging your biases, it’s also important to recognize your own need to learn more about the issues. There is an abundance of information available online, from learning about historical events to exploring current issues related to racial justice.

If you want to raise anti-racist kids, you need to begin practicing what you want to see in your children. Modeling good behaviors — including challenging your own biased beliefs and continuing to seek new information — are good examples to set for your kids.

Remember that being anti-racist doesn't mean that you have to be entirely free of bias yourself. A large part of anti-racism involves examining your own ideas, confronting your biases, and then actively working to change those beliefs. 

Anticipate Questions

Parents often silence or shush their children when they ask questions about skin color. While people often do this to avoid seeming racist or insensitive, it sends a bad message to kids. What children learn when adults do this is that not only is it inappropriate to talk about race, but it also implies that people of color are somehow inherently "worse" or "bad" because of the color of their skin.

Some things that you can do:

  • Rather than avoiding curious questions from kids, prepare yourself for these kinds of questions from your children.
  • Educate yourself about issues surrounding race and consider how you will respond when your children ask such questions. 
  • Start introducing information about race and racial justice before your kids encounter it outside of the home or in the media.
  • Talk about current and historical events.
  • Give your kids the chance to learn more about people who are different from themselves.

Instead of shying away from questions that make you uncomfortable, spend some time examining why those kinds of questions make you so uneasy in the first place.

It’s okay to acknowledge that your own upbringing has contributed to ideas and beliefs about race. Understanding your own attitudes is the first step toward confronting those ideas. 

Abandon the “Colorblind” Approach

In the past, people were often encouraged to use a “colorblind” approach. It's an idea that suggests that simply denying that there are differences in how we see or treat people of color is the best way to prevent racism. This approach has a number of problems:

  • It bypasses difficult discussions. Rather than confront racial injustices or disparities, people can simply shrug off problems by saying “oh, I don’t see color.” It’s an idea that continually absolves people of individual responsibility and suggests that racism is someone else’s problem.
  • It denies BIPOC experiences. Claiming to be colorblind negates and denies the very real injustices that people of color face.
  • It ignores systemic issues. The colorblind approach can be a form of gaslighting. It denies that the problem exists while at the same time implying that the problem lies with the individual. 

Denying that racism exists or simply hoping that it goes away won’t help your children learn to navigate the world. You must prepare your children for the world they are living in—and the reality is that this world is one marked by the effects of racism.

Being open and honest about how race shapes people's experiences and the devastating effects of racism on both individuals and societies is critical for raising an anti-racist child.

Discuss and Celebrate Differences and Diversity 

Anti-racist parents don’t shy away from conversations about race. They show their children that people are different and that cultures are different, but emphasize that all of these different people are equally wonderful. From this example, children are able to learn that all people should be valued equally.

So what are some things that parents can do to introduce conversations about race and racial justice? Simply starting the conversation is important, but it is also critical to create diversity and live these ideals in your day to day life. 

Some of the ways that you can help start conversations and helps kids celebrate diversity include:

  • Choose toys, books, and tv shows that feature people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Use crafts and learning activities to teach diversity.
  • Seek out multicultural education.
  • Take your child to museums, concerts, and cultural festivals devoted to multicultural topics.
  • Remove media, images, and other materials from your home that perpetuate racial stereotypes.

Conversations with kids and learning activities will vary depending on your child's age, maturity level, and experiences. Kids who grow up in diverse neighborhoods, for example, will likely have different questions and conversations about race than kids who grow up in mostly white neighborhoods. 

One thing you can do is to diversify your child's life. Seek out experiences where your children can learn more about different cultures. For example, you might attend cultural festivals, attend diversity camps, or even enroll your child in a class focused on racial issues. 

Start Early

Studies suggest that kids begin to form preferences for their own race surprisingly early in life. Babies learn these preferences based on who they are most exposed to. For example, researchers have found that babies between six and nine months associated people of their own race with happy music and people of other races with sad music.

In order to combat racial biases, it can be helpful to introduce very young children to a range of people from diverse racial backgrounds. Choose books, toys, television programs, and online media that include BIPOC characters to help ensure that even very young kids are exposed to people of all different races.

Use Books to Start Conversations

There are a number of great books aimed at younger children that specifically address racism. Also, try a reading list featuring BIPOC characters and issues. Such books can help shape your child’s views of race. Books can help introduce information about racial identities, why people look different from one another, and why those different appearances don't determine a person's worth.

If you are looking for great books to read with your kids, The Conscious Kid offers an outstanding selection of children's books that support conversations on race, racism, and resistance. They also have a great selection of books by Black authors that are aimed at readers from infancy to age 18.

Point Out Examples of Racism

Point out stereotypes and racism when you encounter them in books, television, and movies. When you see something that promotes a stereotype or promotes a racist idea, explain why it’s discriminatory.

By showing your kids examples in the world around them, they can learn how to think critically and become better able to spot bias.

Look for Online Resources

There are many websites and online tools that can help you practice anti-racism in your home. Some tools you might find helpful include:

Teach What It Means to Be an Ally

In helping your kids learn about race and racism, you can also help them learn how to be supportive BIPOC allies. What is an ally?

An ally is someone who, while not a member of an oppressed or marginalized group, takes an active role in supporting members of that group.

Discuss with your kids what they can do to help support anti-racism. Talk about situations your children may face and what they could do when these things happen. This can include learning how to listen to people of different races, amplify their voices, and call out acts of racism when they see it.

Remind your child that action can take different forms. It might involve things such as signing petitions, participating in protests, and attending community meetings. Being an ally can also involve actions such as supporting BIPOC friends and helping others learn about anti-racism.

A Word From Verywell

Raising an anti-racist child is not about having a one-time conversation about racial issues with your child. It is an ongoing process that should start early and be a fully integrated part of your child’s life. It should also recognize that we all have biases to unlearn, new perspectives to embrace, and new things to learn. The key is to teach your kids the importance of making this work a part of their own life.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NPR. How can parents make their kids understand how to be anti-racist?.

  2. Anderson A. Talking to children about racial bias. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  3. Xiao NG, Wu R, Quinn PC, et al. Infants rely more on gaze cues from own-race than other-race adults for learning under uncertainty. Child Dev. 2018;89(3):e229-e244. doi:10.1111/cdev.12798

  4. Xiao NG, Quinn PC, Liu S, Ge L, Pascalis O, Lee K. Older but not younger infants associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music. Dev Sci. 2018;21(2). doi:10.1111/desc.12537

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author, educational consultant, and speaker focused on helping students learn about psychology.