Written: August 2020 

We wrote this article early on in the coronavirus pandemic, after the death of George Floyd. The content within will still be helpful for your family as the pandemic develops.

The topic of racism is not a new one, but with the pandemic and the widespread protests across the world demanding equality and justice after the death of George Floyd in the United States, it has brought forward conversations within many of our homes about how we address such inequalities around race.

According to a survey which was commissioned by the Diana Award, an anti-bullying organisation, 1 in 3 pupils have witnessed racism in school, and nearly a quarter have noticed a rise in bullying around race just before and during the lockdown period. This has understandably led to many families feeling deeply worried, resulting in parents having to hold some challenging conversations both in and outside the home, to address and help alleviate concerns their children have around the topic. If you are reading this, and you relate, we want you to know that you're not alone. 

Experiencing racism can often shape a person’s behaviour, sometimes consciously or subconsciously, including what they do and don’t do in and outside the home. Some examples of this include: 

  • Feeling like they cannot share parts of their identity, such as language and heritage 
  • Feeling like they have to change the way they speak or behave outside the home
  • Feeling like they have to dress a certain way for fear of judgement and to be accepted
  • Feeling like they should avoid going to certain places where they might be a minority

Every child, young person and adult deserves and has the right to be, and feel protected, and at Barnardo’s we believe everyone, regardless of their background, deserves to live a life free from judgement, prejudice and discrimination. We want you to know that we and many other organisations are here to support you. Regardless of your background, you can use this article to help you raise discussions around racism within your home.

Woman and child at computer

How do you feel as a parent?

The trauma of recent events may be affecting many people in many different ways, and for some could bring up past experiences of racism that have been of impact. A good place to start before opening conversations with your child is to explore how you feel about racism and any experiences you have had. Consider whether this is something you want to do alone, or with a trusted member of your family/community if you feel you need support. There may be things you wish to share with your child, so perhaps you could note them down to share later. 

Ask yourself questions like:​​​​​​

  • What is my understanding of racism?
  • Is it something I might have experienced?
  • When did I first come to understand it?
  • What childhood experiences have I had with people who were different to me?
  • How, if ever, did an adult support me in thinking about racial differences? How can I use this to teach my child about racism?

It’s totally normal if this brings out a range of emotions from within you - try not to let this deter you from starting the conversation with your child, and consider whether you might have someone support you in the process.

Starting a conversation with your child 

multicultural hands making a heart shape

There’s often a temptation to shield children from sensitive topics, sometimes by stopping ‘adult’ conversations when they are around, turning the radio down, or maybe even switching channels on the tv, all in the effort to protect them - a totally normal instinct as a parent or carer. However, with the widespread coverage across the news and social media, your child might already be seeing things online around racism and could be very aware of current affairs. It might also be a normalised conversation amongst their friends or peers at school. Starting an ongoing open conversation around race with your child teaches them to respect differences between people, and can also help build their compassion for others. 

Below are some more questions to help you facilitate the conversation with your child, but remember, it’s okay not to have all the answers to their questions. Try to find out what your child already knows in the first instance to gage what they may feel towards the topic. Ask questions and be curious: 

  • Do you know what racism means?
  • What do you know about racism?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Have you ever experienced or witnessed racism?
  • Do you know who you can go to in school if you were to experience or witness racism?

Having an open ended conversation will allow it to be more free flowing, and give your child a sense that they can come back to the conversation later. You might not get answers to your questions when opening up the conversation for the first, or maybe even second or third time; but it’s important to keep it on the agenda. 

Online life and racism

Woman and child at computer

Your child’s online life could be informing their learning journey around racism and world events, and could be leaving them with a range of emotions and perhaps some unanswered questions too. Having open conversations with them around the type of content they are viewing or reading will show them they don’t have to go through that journey on their own, and that you are there to support them through what can be a sensitive topic.

Some questions to open the conversation up could be:

Have you seen anything online around the current events around the world in relation to racism? What do you know about it?

How is that making you feel?

In opening these conversations, you can also explore whether they themselves have experienced or witnessed any racism on social media. In both instances: explore how this made them feel, what they did, whether they knew how to report it (every social media app has a ‘report’ function that can be used). 

Practical tips to explore in your conversations

Anti racist notes

1. Avoid ‘colour blindness’ 

Teach your child not to accept comments such as ‘I don’t see skin colour’ - as this could prevent a person from understanding another’s everyday experiences, and empower them to want to use the current climate to change things. 

2. Normalise and celebrate differences

Highlighting the differences amongst people, from the books we give our children to read, to the movies they watch, can show children the diversity of the world they live in. Demonstrate that you are eager to teach your child about how positive it is that people have differences, and these should be celebrated. 

3. Learn together

Make a determined effort to learn about the history and culture across racial minority communities. There is a wealth of information online that provide examples of historical events that have taken place in the UK which have been influenced by racial minority communities. Try to encourage your child to use this as a source of strength and inspiration. 

4. Encourage curiosity 

During your conversations, allow your child to express themselves, ask questions and be curious. In this process, they may for example inadvertently ask questions in ways you might not deem to be the most appropriate; gently explain why this is the case, and how they may ask it differently, or words they might use instead to encourage them to continue to engage with you.

5. Acknowledge your child’s feelings 

Encourage your child it’s okay to have different feelings about what is going on around the world regarding racism. They might feel angry, sad, scared, shocked, or confused - all of which are valid feelings to have in the current circumstances. Encourage them to talk these feelings through with you or someone else they trust. They might also not know what to think, and that’s okay too - everyone processes extreme situations differently and at their own pace.

6. Its okay not to have all the answers  

Your child is likely to have lots of questions about racism throughout your conversations, and there are some chances that they won’t always be easy to answer. Although not having the answers may be unsettling, give yourself permission to be ok with not having all of the answers. The subject is not an easy one, but it’s not a reason to stop talking. The more we talk, the more change we can create. Your child will not think any less of you if you simply say ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can try to find out for you.’

If you are concerned that your child has or is experiencing bullying related to racism in school, or if you have concerns related to your child’s schools conduct around racism, Citizens Advice Bureau offers a pathway of guidance on how to address this and get the support you need. You could also explore our Back to School Hub.  

If you feel you need further support, you can self refer into See, Hear, Respond here, or call 0800 157 7015.