Talking to Kids About Race Improves Their Mental Health

The Black Lives Matter movement has opened the door for parents of all races to talk to their kids about racial discrimination. Social scientists say those conversations can also help protect the mental health of kids of color in the wake of increased racial awareness.

Nicole Ausmer is mom to ten-year-old Avery and seven-year-old Jackson. Ausmer is upfront with her kids about racism in ways they can understand. This type of racism can have harmful effects on mental health. Researchers studied 700 Black fifth graders to determine how perceived racism affected their well-being. They found as kids who experienced discrimination—like racial slurs, insults, or physical threats—were more likely to experience more depressive symptoms. The same study found that nurturing and involved parents could mitigate the effects. Erlanger Turner, PhD, is a clinical child psychologist at Pepperdine University who studies race and mental health.

Turner says it’s important to give kids the language they need to talk about race. If using books, explain words they might not understand. For families of color, highlight your family’s heritage and culture by looking for activities the family can share. Nicole Ausmer says these conversations are important for all families right now.

The American Psychological Association has resources for parents who want to start a conversation about race with their kids. It’s part of the APA’s “Resilience Initiative.” Go to the APA’s website at and type in resilience initiative.