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Practical Advice For Talking About Racism With Children

Rae Soloman/KUNC
Demonstrators lie on their stomachs for nearly 9 minutes in front of the Capitol building in Denver on June 4. The "die-in" was meant to mark the time George Floyd was suffocated by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer late last month.

Protests against police brutality are continuing this week across Colorado. Dr. Brandi Freeman joined KUNC’s Colorado Edition to give advice about how to talk with children about the protests, racism and police violence.

Dr. Freeman is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado and director of diversity and inclusion for the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. 


Interview Highlights 

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.  

Matt Bloom: What’s a good way to bring that up, and frame that conversation with a child who is on the younger side? 

Dr. Brandi Freeman: So I think one is beginning to start with what they understand. I think everything that’s been going on recently has probably created a lot of questions for many children, in terms of understanding what’s happening, why it’s happening, what’s going on just overall. And so really approaching children from what do they understand already, trying to understand what they believe, and recognizing that you might be surprised by some of the things that they’ve picked up. Kids absorb so many things so quickly.  

There’s a study that was done, it’s been repeated several times, it was first done in the 1940s or 50s, that looked at the preferences that children were showing but how they were internalizing negative beliefs about themselves. And it’s been redone several times, but a number of parents were very surprised by the fact that their child was associating darker skin with more negative behaviors and lighter skin with more positive behaviors. So I think it’s really important to see where they are and then try to open that conversation about what does that really means in terms of trying to help children.  

In the age group of 10 to 14, how should the conversation change as children get older?  

I think at that age, it’s really important to think about, to recognize one: that they’ve learned a lot more by that point — once you get into middle school, children in general have been exposed to some of the history of our country, and recognizing how that connects to current issues, what has happened, recognizing that perhaps history that has been taught is imperfect, recognizing that there may be things you need to fill in and how that impacts their beliefs.  

Things you can do in terms of promoting positive experiences or just looking at the diversity of friends that a child has, the diversity of experience in terms of educational settings, social settings, creating a patchwork that is promoting positive behaviors for them.  

I want to go from talking about differences in age to differences in race. Black parents have been forced to talk with their kids about racism and police brutality for a long time. But maybe some white parents may be asking these questions for the first time during these protests. How does the advice you give about talking with children about these issues differ between black, multiracial and white families? 

What’s important for all people, all parents, or people who are mentoring or working with children of any age is to first take a look at their own biases, recognizing that role modeling plays a critical role for children, so being very aware of not only our own actions, but our own emotions or how we respond to things.  

And then having a conversation and being prepared for whatever the child might say. Other things you could do is looking at the diversity of experiences that not only you have, but your children have in whatever setting that may be. And I think that can be helpful in terms of guiding the conversation and helping them understand that there’s a lot of diversity in our world. 

You can find more advice from Dr. Freeman on this topic here

This interview is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition from June 10. You can find the full episode here

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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