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Children, Teenagers, and Racism

Helping Children and Teenagers Cope with Racial Stressors

For an infographic version of this guide, click here.

  • Infants and toddlers will not fully understand racism and experiences of discrimination, but if parents are experiencing racial stressors, this could influence family routines, parent mood, and social interactions.
    • As a caregiver, take care of yourself
    • Look for changes in your child’s behavior such as increases in irritability, crying, or withdrawn behavior so you can support and help soothe them.
  • Children, 3–10 years old may notice changes in caregivers’ mood and stress levels. Additionally, children may experience racial
    Young black girl
    Children may notice caregivers’ mood and stress levels

    discrimination in the form of teasing, bullying, and other children avoiding playing with them, for example.

    • Have honest conversations with your child about racism using language they understand.
    • Encourage them to express their emotions and listen in a way that makes it clear that it is okay for them to talk about racial stress with caregivers.
    • Make it clear that racism is wrong.
    • Model emotional expression and label your emotions when you are also experiencing racial stress.
    • Do activities with your children that highlight  positive aspects of their racial identity and that are enjoyable to facilitate mood change.
  • Youth and Adolescents, 11–19 years old, may struggle to cope with fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness stemming from racism. Teens may start arguments or be withdrawn, and even feel physically ill (i.e., headaches, insomnia, and nausea).
    • Look for emotional and behavioral cues that your child may show such as hyper-vigilance (i.e., being jumpy or “on edge”), confusion, or difficulty concentrating.
    • Exposure to racial stressors through social media, although essential for being informed, may be overwhelming and difficult for children to process on their own.
    • Limit social media time if necessary and have conversations with your child about racial violence and experiences of racism.
    • Validate their feelings (e.g., “It’s okay to feel this way when people say things like that”).
    • Encourage your child to engage in other activities they enjoy as a family or individually.
    • Participate in activities with your child to celebrate being Black.
    • Model and encourage coping behaviors like using enjoyable distractions (i.e., going for a walk, cooking, watching a TV show).  Point out positives of situations, express both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions, do relaxation techniques (i.e., deep breaths, yoga, stretching).
    • Keep up with self-care routines (i.e., journaling, eating meals regularly, showering).
    • At this age, teens may want to engage in activism or to express their emotions through activities (i.e., art, photography, talking to friends, social media posts). Support them in these efforts so they can feel empowered and confident!

 

Tips for Communicating with Children about Racism

  • Woman and Child
    Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the emotions you and your child may be feeling.

    Remember there is no right or wrong way to do this. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the emotions you and your child may be feeling.

  • Address your own anxiety and stress in a healthy way.
  • Use verbal and nonverbal language to communicate your care and concern.
  • Stay focused on your child and the conversation. Let them know you are listening by not multitasking or talking over them.
  • Speak to them calmly using language they know.
  • Be honest and explain what racism is and how it is wrong.
  • Try to make them feel safe. Explain that you will be there to take care of them and love them.
  • Ask your child(ren) how they are feeling, what worries them, and what they think could help them feel better. Children may feel ashamed, sad, and angry.
  • Allow them to openly express emotions and tell them it is okay to feel these ways.
  • Offer comfort with gentle words or just be present with them.
  • Spend more time with the children than usual, even for a short while.
  • If your child is very distressed, allow them time to “cool down,” communicate that you love and support them, and be easier on them.

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