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Ask the Mayo Mom: Talking to kids about racism

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Ask the Mayo Mom: Talking to kids about racism
September 23, 2022

Children learn about racial differences and racial bias from an early age, and parents and caregivers are their first teachers. It's important for parents and other adults to be role models for inclusive behaviors early in the lives of children life to decrease racial bias and improve cultural understanding.

Experts encourage parents and caregivers to get comfortable with having difficult conversations about race and bias. 

"It's important for all children to have these discussions, and as an adult in any child's life, everything that you're doing is modeling for them what's okay and isn't okay," says Dr. Emily McTate, a Mayo Clinic pediatric psychologist. 

Parents may be surprised to find out that a baby's brain can notice race-based differences as early as 6 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs. 

When children have questions about racial differences, it's important to keep a child's developmental stage in mind and tailor age-appropriate messages. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these strategies for helping children understand and deal with racial bias:

  • Talk to your children and acknowledge that racial differences and bias exist.
  • Confront your own bias and model how you want your children to respond to others who may be different than them. 
  • Encourage your children to challenge racial stereotypes and racial bias by being kind and compassionate when interacting with people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.

Another important step is teaching kids to be critical consumers of media. 

"I always think about all the moments, whether you're reading books together or watching animated movies together, whatever it is, and hit the pause button and talk about what's going on," says Dr. Daniel Hilliker, a Mayo Clinic pediatric psychologist. "Why is this person being represented in this fashion? And that can kind of open up the conversation about exploring some different perspectives." 

On this Ask the Mayo Mom edition of the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, host Dr. Angela Mattke is joined by Dr. McTate and Dr. Hilliker for a discussion on talking to kids about racism.

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