Protests, Race & Social Injustice: Talking to Kids at Every Age

As reported on - Tips from Dr. Jacqueline Dougé, a Maryland pediatrician and an author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, chair of the AAP section on minority health, equity and inclusion, Annette Nunez, a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver.

June 1, 2020, 6:35 PM EDT / Updated June 2, 2020, 4:37 PM EDT / Source: TODAY

By Meghan Holohan

Preschool and kindergarten


Research indicates that even toddlers notice racial differences, so kids are picking up on it way before many parents even think about it. With younger children, books and toys can be good tools to help recognize and celebrate differences. Heard-Garris recommends "Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness" and "Something Happened in Our Town."

“Kids are starting to see what other people look like and what's normal. A white kid can ride a bike or black kids can ride a bike or Hispanic kids can ride a bike,” Dougé said. “Kids need to be exposed to differences that are normal and celebrated.”

To talk about racism and the protests with kids this age, Nunez suggests using the concept of fairness because little children understand this.

“Explain it in terms with experience that they've had. So maybe you talk about the time their brother got something and they didn't. Start explaining the concept of inequality and then to relating it to the protests,” Nunez said.

This should be one of many chats about race, racism and protesting injustices.

"Talking about this early and often is really important," Heard-Garris said. "It's an ongoing conversation. It should not be a one off."


Elementary school


When it comes to older children, parents can talk more specifically about what their children have heard or watched.

“Then parents can say, ‘Let's talk a little bit more about your thoughts about that,’” Dougé said. “We’ve got to talk about it with them to validate their feelings.”


It’s important for parents to listen to their children and respond to what they say while still relating it to their children’s experiences.


“They need to know they are being heard and have a safe area to process these feelings and ask a question,” Nunez said.


Middle school

As children get older the conversations will be more advanced, but it is still important for parents to keep an open mind. Parents should encourage middle school children to ask questions.

See what they're feeling, then gauge your conversation based on that,” Nunez said. “They need to know they have can a voice about it, they know they're being heard, they know they have a safe area to process these uncomfortable conversations.”

Dougé says it’s important for parents to watch media with their children or simply talk about what they’re watching.

“Let them, perhaps, direct the conversation,” she said. “There's also an opportunity if your son or daughter is telling you about this video they saw on YouTube to say, ‘OK, I haven't seen that, can I see that?”


High school

Again, it is important to ask questions to high school students, but parents should expect that teens are familiar with protests (and racial inequality).

“You've got to be honest with yourself that they know about it. This is everywhere,” Dougé said.

But understanding what they know and adding context can help.

“It's really important to hear their voice, but then also use books to show them images of historic protests,” Nunez said. “Really start showing the history of race and racism and protesting because it's not something that's new. It's something that has existed and it's a part of our history.”

It can also be a time where parents talk to their teens about critical thinking and media literacy. Parents can say something like: “Oh, that's interesting. Where did you get that information?” Dougé suggested.

“These are opportunities when they're starting to become independent and parents are helping them develop those skills,” Dougé said. “You're shepherding your kids so that they can become an adult that's a free thinker and can make the world a better place. I think that's what all parents want for their kids.”

Heard-Garris agrees.

"To really get to that better world, that more equitable world, we need to strive to be anti-racist," she said. "If we are not even willing to name the names and label of racism for what it is we we will never get there."