Starting a Conversation about Civil Rights with your Kids


Do you have the knowledge to respond if your child came home from school with questions about social or racial injustices? How about civil rights?

It’s a topic and a conversation that can be hard to start if you don’t have the right tools and resources ready. However, February is Black History Month and could serve as a great way to get a conversation about civil rights started.

Here’s a few helpful questions to get you and your family on the right path;

·         What do you know about the civil rights movement?

·         What were some of the challenges that people faced during that time in our nation's history?

·         How do you think children felt during that time? Parents? Teachers?

·         Who were some of the leaders of the civil rights movement?

·         What similar challenges do people in our nation face today?

·         How can we continue Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of inclusion and equality in our own lives?

·         Discuss civil rights leaders past and present.

·         When was the civil rights movement?

·         How did this movement help shape our country today?

You may be wondering if your children are of age to even discuss such a serious topic. Consider this, health experts say children as young as 2 and 3-years-old can differentiate races. Wouldn’t you rather their first race conversation come from you as parents rather than a school aged child repeating what they’ve heard elsewhere?

Toddlers and preschoolers may not understand the events of the world but they are highly impressionable. It may be the perfect opportunity to introduce issues of race, inequality and civil rights in ways that make sense.

Authors Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards wrote, “Young children need caring adults to help them construct a positive sense of self and a respectful understanding of others. They need adults to help them begin to navigate and resist the harmful impact of prejudice and discrimination. A person’s early childhood years lay the foundation for a developmental and experiential journey that continues into adulthood.”

You can find their book and other social justice books geared for a young audience by clicking here.

Before beginning a conversation about civil rights or inequality with older children or teens, be aware of any bias you might have. Harvard University’s Implicit Bias can help you examine your own beliefs. Being aware of any bias you might have can prevent you from potentially passing it along to your kids.

Parents should do their best to seize teachable moments when they arise to help your children understand the fight for racial equality but also have ongoing conversations about race and diversity to promote tolerance and acceptance of all. That’s far easier said than done but here’s a few helpful tips on where you can start.


Read to better understand our country’s history

· Knowing Our History to Build a Brighter Future: Books to Help Kids Understand the Fight for Racial Equality is a great resource for parents. 

Understand what it means to be privileged

· Being born in the United States can be seen as a huge advantage, especially to those in other parts of the world. However, we know from our country’s history and current events that some have been privileged to exercise all of their rights while others have not. The National Civil Rights Museum’s Privilege Aptitude Test is as a way to start the conversation about what it means when people don’t have privileges because of their race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class, ability or veteran status.

Provide learning opportunities about the fight for racial equality

· The National Civil Rights Museum provides an online learning activity that allows students to view the Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955-57 from the perspective of a newspaper investigative reporter. Students are guided through a series of bus stops where they are given scenarios of the unfair treatment and conditions African Americans endured during a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama.

Provide older children and teens with a perspective on the civil rights to inspire change

· Tweens and teens want to know what’s going on in the world. Rather than shield them from current events it’s best to have a discussion to deepen their understanding so they can be more compassionate individuals who understand inequality and injustice faced by fellow humans in the world we all live in.

Understand the history of civil rights

· Consider taking your family on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee to see the National Civil Rights Museum. It’s a powerful place that encourages parents to talk about violence, racism, and discrimination while at the museum.

· While intended for educators, parents can find helpful tools, resources and activities about teaching tolerance here;