How to Teach Kids About Race

Parents of Black children are tasked with teaching them what it means to be Black in America from a very early age. Learning about the concepts of race, privilege and the cultural implications of both is called racial and ethnic socialization. 

The American Psychological Association’s explanation of racial socialization puts it simply: “Some minority parents have concerns that talking about race to their children may cause their children to see themselves as victims or be hypersensitive; however, research actually shows the opposite—that youth who rarely receive messages about race have poorer psychological well-being.”

While Black families may often have conversations about racial and ethnic socialization out of safety and necessity, their children’s peers of any race can benefit from having the same conversations at home in a way that inspires equity, compassion and understanding for people of all races. When everyone is given opportunities to learn about their communities, they may move away from the harmful effects of ‘colorblindness,’ and toward a more genuine understanding of race, equity and inclusion. 

When to Start Talking to Kids About Race

Though it’s easy to assume that conversations about race are too complicated or nuanced for young children, research shows that children notice differences among themselves and their peers much earlier than adults may think, and in many cases, earlier than adults are willing to discuss it with them. Left to their own understanding, children may pick up on false and discriminatory narratives from peers, media or other adults they interact with on a regular basis.  

When addressed proactively, parental guidance about racial bias at different cognitive developmental stages throughout childhood can help children build positive, inclusive views of people with different races and ethnicities. Adults who are considering these conversations for the first time may benefit from self-reflection on their existing implicit racial biases before beginning to discuss them with young people.

The stages of cognitive development theorized by Jean Piaget explain that children’s development can be identified in four stages: 

Stages of Cognitive Development and Racial Socialization



  • Developing language and abstract communication skills based on the language spoken at home, at school or by others in their family. 
  • Learning from societal stereotypes perpetuated by adults and media, becoming capable of grouping others based on race, and likely to make generalizations about others based on characteristics.
  • Realizing the value of fairness and being capable of feeling empathy for others. Can identify and understand when images, comments or behaviors are hurtful to others. 


  • Understanding “conservation,” where the contents of two things can be equal, even if their shapes or appearances are different, and can be abstractly applied to people, ideas and objects.
  • Identifying differences between the culture observed at home and the cultures observed at school or elsewhere in the world. 
  • Developing a sense of identity and belonging, and changing their socialization with others based on that identity. 


  • Understanding the difference between facts and abstract potential, and questioning the parameters of what is considered right and wrong. 
  • Exploring and evaluating hypotheses about identity and social groups, and applying these ideas to their own lives and social peers. 
  • Understanding and validating others’ viewpoints, feelings and experiences, but continuing to display learned misinformation based on stereotypes or discriminatory ideas from adults and media.

Knowing these developmental stages can help adults decide when and how to talk to young people about race in an appropriate way, instead of assuming that a child’s silence about race means they’re uninterested or unaware of race in social dynamics. Children may pick up on adults’ taboo approach to race or discomfort around racial discussions, and mistakenly believe it’s inappropriate to discuss. 

Forging a trustworthy, candid bond with children of all ages can help encourage their curiosity and openness to discussing race and culture as it relates to their environments.

Social workers and other clinicians should be aware of the developmental stage of the clients they’re caring for, and hold developmentally appropriate conversations that shape positive, inclusive views about race and ethnicity. 

They can help curate school and library book collections that are helpful for promoting racial socialization, and work with other school staff to help address inclusive curriculum planning, anti-racism efforts and administrative policies that encourage racial socialization at school.

Resources for Teaching Kids About Race

The contents below are organized by age group, followed by resources for clinicians and adults who work with children of various age groups. 

Infants and Toddlers

Older Children


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Resources for Social Workers and Adults Who Work With Children 

Organizations Dedicated to Racial Socialization

  • EduColor: organization founded by people of color, for people of color to advocate for the discussion of race and social justice in education.
  • EmbraceRace: organization dedicated to creating and distributing resources for racial socialization that cater to young children.
  • Forward Promise: organization that uses research and fundraising to advance culturally relevant healing practices for boys and young men of color. 
  • Learning for Justice: free resources for adults working with K-12 students to inform and supplement racially inclusive and justice-oriented curricula.
  • The Perception Institute: research institute focused on translating scientific findings on race, gender and ethnicity into remedies for sectors such as education, health care, law enforcement and media.  
  • Project LIT Community: online community of educators and students working to eliminate book deserts and anti-racist reading policies at schools across the country. 
  • Raising Race Conscious Children: blog for adults who are interested in fostering discussions about race with young children.  
  • Showing Up for Racial Justice: collective action community aimed at increasing participation of white people in social justice efforts.

The information in this article is for informational purposes only; individuals should consult with a professional before making decisions about children’s mental health and development.