So, how do we talk about race? Talking with kids about race should not be a formulaic, one-time event. Rather, talking about race and equality can be a way of parenting, teaching and modeling. It is most helpful when it is an ongoing part of kids’ development.

These ongoing race chats may take two primary forms. Preventative race chats and reactionary race chats.

Preventative race chats can help children form positive views about themselves and people of different races. Children will observe and absorb views about race whether we like it or not. They do so from living in a society where racist behavior and ideas remain present and from watching and experiencing how the adults and peers around them interact. Adults can take steps to “prevent” racist views from developing by talking to kids about race and ethnicity early on.

Reactionary race chats are responses to events or experiences from your child’s life as they happen. When my niece was teased for her skin color, for example. Or if your son or daughter comes home to tell you about a new student’s “dirty skin.” These personal experiences require conversation. Talking it through will help children make sense of what happened and give them the tools they need to respond.

Because kids develop differently over time, we will examine useful hints about how to discuss race with your child during two different time points. The first is during very early childhood, when children are between three and seven years old. And the second is during middle childhood, when children are between eight and twelve years old.