Talking to children about racism

Advice to help you understand how to talk to children about race and racism, and what you can do to support a child who’s experiencing racist bullying.

If you want to chat to a child or young person about racism, you might be worrying about how to start the conversation.  

You might worry about saying the wrong thing. Or you may want to shield a child from difficult issues. 

However you're feeling, we’ve got advice to help you start the conversation. This page is for parents and caregivers who want to understand what racism is, how it affects young people and what they can do to be anti-racist. 

How to talk to children about racism

Children and young people may have seen images and stories in the news about race and racism. 
Some children might not fully understand the stories and they may have questions. It's important to encourage positive and open conversations about race and racism with children and young people. 
  • Have conversations about this often, not just when it's in the news. 
  • Keep the conversation going and let children know it OK to ask questions. 
  • Encourage children to understand the lived experience of ethnically minoritised groups better. 
When people talk about being anti-racist, it includes: 
  • listening to people who have experienced racism and accepting what they say as truth. 
  • calling out racism and discrimination wherever you see it. and using your own privilege to draw attention to it. 
  • continuing to learn about inequality and how it affects others. 
  • regularly assessing your own thoughts about racism and discrimination. 
  • passing on what you learn to those around you, including family, friends and colleagues. 

Under five years

  • Talk about fairness, being kind and accepting others for who they are. 
  • Celebrate difference. 

For primary school age children

  • Discuss social media, read books or watch shows together that deal with racism or stereotypes. 
  • Let them ask questions. 
  • Let them know they can come to you if they’re confused about anything or have particular worries.  

For older children and teenagers

  • Let them lead the conversation so they feel confident sharing their ideas or experiences. 
  • Provide a safe and comfortable environment for them to express themselves. 
  • Listen and ask questions without judging them. 
It’s important to explore the history and culture of ethnically minoritised groups by reading, watching and listening to the stories they’ve written and created.  
Some recent campaigns and websites that might help you include:  
  • 56 Black Men – a campaign challenging the negative image of Black men throughout mainstream media.
  • NSPCC shop – we have a range of children's books on racial diversity and black history.  
  • Inclusive books for children – a charity that aspires for mainstream children’s books to be inclusive, and for inclusive children’s books to be mainstream. 
Let children know: 
  • we aren’t all the same and the world would be a very boring place if everyone was the same. 
  • we can learn from people with different backgrounds and cultures to us.  
  • the human race is diverse and that’s a good thing. 

Encourage conversation, understanding and empathy with people who are different from them. Help children to notice race and racial difference and appreciate it. 

Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Having an open conversation will help children learn about how racism still exists, and to recognise how it affects them or people they know. 
Talking openly will help a child to feel more comfortable sharing how they’re feeling with you, and to confide in you if they’ve experienced or seen racism or racial abuse. 
We have support and advice for starting these conversations on our Talking about difficult topics page.  

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How racism affects children

  • Racism and racial abuse or bullying can be really distressing for children and young people.  
  • It can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, anger or even shame about their race or how they look. 
  • Racism or racial bullying can be overt or openly hostile, such as being called racist names or being sent threats. 
  • It can be harder to recognise and challenge subtle comments that put a child or young person down and devalue their experience or identity. 
  • Any form of racism is distressing for children and young people and can have a significant impact on their mental health. 

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What to do if a child is experiencing racial bullying

If a child tells you they’ve experienced racial bullying or abuse, whether they’re being called names, excluded because of their race, attacked or threatened, it’s important to know how support them.  

Listen to children 

Listen non-judgementally to what a child or young person is telling you. Their experience is real, it’s painful and they have come to you to talk about it. 
Don't tell them to ignore it. Because experiencing racism might include seeing it in the media or hearing about it on social media, it’s impossible to ignore it or avoid it completely.  
Recognise the trauma of being bullied in this way. 
Show them they can trust you by letting them know you’re there if they want to talk and thank them for confiding in you.  

Show them you care 

Show empathy and acknowledge the seriousness of what they’ve shared and how it’s affected them. 
If you’re a teacher or youth leader, remember that it’s never a child’s fault if they’re experiencing racial abuse or bullying. 

Decide how you'll support them 

It’s important for parents to support their child emotionally by letting them know you care about them and that they can always be honest with you.  
Explain to your child that what’s happened to them isn’t their fault and that you’re proud of who they are. 
If your child’s experienced racism or bullying from someone at their school or someone you know, consider getting a mediator for you and the other family to discuss the situation. This could be someone at your child’s school or a family member you trust. 
If it’s happening in school, you should let the school know about the bullying. Schools have a responsibility to protect children in their care and not to discriminate against children. 
We have advice on how to progress with a complaint about bullying at different types of schools on our bullying advice page.

Help them get support 

A child or young person may need to be able to cry or express their anger or hurt about what’s happened to them. This could be through counselling or with an adult they trust. 
Be led by what the young person feels comfortable with but reassure them that it's OK to express how they feel and that there are different types of support available. 
Children and young people under 19 can contact Childline to talk things through with a counsellor. 
If you’re in a position of authority, for example at the child’s school, refer to your best practice guidance around safeguarding. 
This may mean: 
  • excluding the person responsible for racial bullying or abuse  
  • involving the police  
  • further staff training 
  • changing your policy and educating the child’s peer group on diversity and inclusion. 

"I hate going to school, I feel lonely there. I’m the only black student in my year and everyone thinks it’s OK to call me offensive names. It annoys me but when I ask them to stop, they say I’m overreacting."

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What is race?

It can mean a person’s colour, nationality, ethnicity or citizenship.  
Someone’s ethnicity or national origin may not be the same as their current nationality. For example, someone may have Indian national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport. 
Race includes different ethnic and racial groups. 
General examples of racial groups include: 
  • Black British
  • British Asians
  • British Sikhs
  • British Jews
  • Irish Travellers
  • Romany Gypsies
  • White British. 

Race is a protected characteristic in law under the:

  • Equality Act 20101 in England, Scotland and Wales
  • Race Relations Order 19972 in Northern Ireland.

It’s illegal to discriminate against someone, or treat them differently, because of their race.

What is racism? 

Racial discrimination or racism is when someone is treated differently because of their race, ethnicity, nationality or colour.  
Any type of racism or racial discrimination is abusive and distressing for children and young people who experience or witness it. 
If someone commits a crime against you or your child because of race, it’s considered a hate crime and is against the law.  
Instances of bullying that are racially motivated but not a crime are considered racist incidents. 

In 2022/23, Childline delivered 302 counselling sessions where the child mentioned experiencing bullying or cyberbullying targeting their race, ethnicity, religion, or culture. In the same year, there were 28 contacts to the NSPCC Helpline from adults with concerns about these issues.

Types of racism and racial discrimination

Racism, racial discrimination and racial bullying can take many forms. Children and young people might experience more than one type of racism. 
For example, a young person experiencing racial bullying in school could also be sent abusive comments online and face racial discrimination at their workplace. 
Racism can also happen alongside other forms of discrimination or abuse. It can include: 


Treating someone worse than someone else because of their race. 
Policies in a school, workplace or similar organisation that disadvantage people from a particular racial group. 


Making a child, young person, or adult feel humiliated, offended or degraded. 
Harassment can happen in the form of: 
  • spoken or written words. 
  • offensive emails. 
  • comments online.  
  • facial expressions.  
  • social media posts.  
  • jokes. 


When a person is treated badly because they have made a complaint of race related discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. 
It can also happen when someone is supporting a person who’s complained about racism or racial discrimination. 

Overt racism 

Making openly racist remarks to a child, young person or adult.  
It can include racist comments, such as being called racist names or being sent insulting messages or threats.  
It can also include physical violence or assault or damaging personal belongings. 

Covert racism 

These comments or ‘microaggressions’ can make young people feel like they’re less important, or like they don’t fit in, because of their race. 
Examples of covert racism include things like saying ‘I don’t see colour’. This may come from a well-intentioned place, but it can mean you're not acknowledging a young person's identity and experiences. 
Microaggressions can be subtle, but they’re abusive, painful and humiliating for children and young people. 

Worried about a child?

Find out more

Reporting hate crime to the police

Being bullied or treated differently because of race is a hate crime and against the law. If you’re worried about a child experiencing racial abuse or bullying, it’s important to get help right away. 
You or the young person can report it to the police by calling 999 in an emergency or 101 at other times. 
You can also report hate crime online via the government website.


Childline: support for young people

You can help us to support more families.


Snapshots are based on real Childline service users but are not necessarily direct quotes. All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child or young person involved. Photographs have been posed by models.

Illustration credits
Illustrations by Sinem Erkas, and Harriet Nobel.
Parenting advice row: see individual pages for details.