Talking to Toddlers About Race

Over the past few weeks of reckoning with racial violence, I have seen many of my friends sharing the same idea: We will teach our kids to do better.

I feel the same way, and have shared this sentiment myself. But when you’re faced with the reality of actually doing this teaching, it can be hard to know where to start. How do you begin a conversation with your toddler about race? How soon is too soon? How do you prevent them from saying awkward things in the grocery store?! (Spoiler: you can’t. Embrace the awkward!)

As a white mom of a newly minted two-year-old and four-year-old, as well as an educator and author of board books, I want to share a little bit about my own approach and experiences. I’d love to hear more from you all about your thoughts as well, here or on my Instagram, where I share book recommendations as well.

Most importantly, I try to follow IG accounts and recommendations from people of color, like @hereweeread, @theconsciouskid, @weneeddiversebooks, #OwnVoices, and many others. Before I can teach anyone, I need to listen and learn.

When talking with my little kids about race, at this age I want to do a couple of key things. First, I want to lay the groundwork for an understanding of historical violences such as slavery and Jim Crow. In order to do that, I use books that discuss important figures in Black history to frame our conversation. When we talk about Rosa Parks, we discuss the fact that people didn’t always receive the same privileges because of their skin color. When I wrote my very first board book, my goal was to provide a text that could spark exactly these conversations.

Second, we read books that discuss inclusivity, and I use that as a springboard to talk about their own lives. I mention the people they know who are Black, and we talk about how wrong it would be to treat them differently because of their skin color. We also discuss how important it is to stand up to others if they are being unkind or exclusive.

And finally, I think it’s important to fill their bookshelves with books that center people of color. Not necessarily books about race or history; I want them to see people of color playing in the snow, exploring nature, befriending a whale, doing science experiments, and more.

My goals for 0-4 is to lay the groundwork for an understanding that there are historical and structural violences at play. Over the new few years (roughly 4-6), we will begin to discuss in greater detail things like slavery and Civil Rights. And as they continue to get older and interact with more people, we will talk more about how race impacts the way that people exist in the world and how they are treated.

If you purchase any of the books I’ve linked here, I’d love for you to consider making an equivalent donation to a justice organization such as The Bail Project or the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Do you have any favorite books that help you have important conversations with your kiddos? I’d love to hear about them.

About Alex

Alex Sumpter is a recent transplant to Louisiana who teaches English at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. Originally from Florida and more recently from NYC, Alex is thrilled to be raising her two young daughters in St. Charles Parish with her husband, also an English professor. She loves reading more than pretty much anything, and her favorite place in the world is on the beach with a book. You can usually find her working on something around the house (which she grams as One Lime House), digging in the dirt, or trying to learn how to cook like a native Louisianan.


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