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Secure Beginnings / Resources  / Articles  / Social Justice and Parenting Young Children

Social Justice and Parenting Young Children

We stand for a vision where violence against communities of color ends, and we envision a world of healthy, resilient communities where Black lives matter.

Dear Families and Supporters of Family,

We are writing today in solidarity with the daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunties who have lost loved ones because of institutional racism, oppression and violence. Secure Beginnings will not be silent during this critical time and denounces racism in all forms. 

Rather than being prescriptive, Secure Beginnings has always held inquiry and curiosity as basic tenets of respectful communication. Now is a time for inquiry, listening to, and learning from people of color. The invitation is to more deeply listen to voices and perspectives of those who have not been heard. We can amplify the voices of Black and Brown people through sharing their stories, music and words. 

You may wonder how to talk to and teach your child about social justice in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Carol Castanon, Parent Consultant, and Adrienne Hoskins, Wisdom Council member, offer guidance here:

No matter how much we want to shield our young children from upsetting images and stories, they overhear our conversations, and this sparks questions.  If we shy away from talking with them about race and racism, their information will come from outside messages.  Young children recognize racial differences from a very young age.  As early as age 3, children may begin excluding peers of different races from their play.  Creating safe spaces for children to explore what is alike and what is different in people is important. Developing empathy and a sense of justice at an early age helps children grow into adults who work to create a more just world.

Narrate – Tell children that people are protesting, walking and marching together, because they are sad and angry.  Some people are carrying signs that say Black Lives Matter. A Black man named George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.  People are sad and angry because there have been so many Black men and women who have died by police action, or because they didn’t have good doctors or medicines, or safe communities.  When people are treated unfairly or are not safe because of the color of their skin it is called racism. People are protesting because they believe everyone deserves to live well and live healthy lives. People are trying to change the rules or laws to create a better world. 

Bias – Children learn what they see and hear.  People who aren’t deliberately prejudiced still harbor implicit biases absorbed from the dominant culture. Implicit bias lives in images and language. It is life experience.  Diversify your child’s experience through diverse opportunities. This might be with video, books and song. Families should explore ways to be in relationship with all people. This includes race, gender, age and ability.  Take care to address openly with children what might feel like “invisible” bias, like subtle anxiety that arises around someone who looks different, or explicit bias in the form of outright prejudice in words, images or actions.

Same and Different – For many years, mostly White people, would call for “color blindness,” the idea that we are all the same. The problem with this is that the dominant lens does not clearly see the other. This kind of blindness leads to the unbalanced power lens of the group in charge. We are different from each other. Our color, hair, language, and gender differ wildly.  Celebrate these differences because it is how children learn to be curious and love the fullness of humanity.  It is not the job of people unlike you to teach you and your family. It is your job to learn about yourself, and your biases and those of others.

Action – Children know when they are included as helpers and when they are not.  What you do and say matters, and including children in concrete helping behaviors empowers them. Perhaps you participate in a protest. Perhaps you light a candle for George Floyd.  Perhaps you take your child to the voting booth.  While Secure Beginnings often speaks about “being,” this is also a time of “doing.”  What are you willing to learn, to engage in, to work toward, and to change?  

Safety – We want children to feel safe but we know that many children do not have this most basic right. Speak about safety with your young child. You might say, “Every person should be safe! We are going to work for a safe and fair world together! We want all Black and Brown children to be safe and grow up. We want all Black and Brown grown-ups to be safe too.”

Inquire – Because we are talking about young children, we want to make sure we understand what they are thinking.  We might ask one of these questions. That could be enough. “What do you understand about the protests?  What are your ideas about all people being safe?  How do you feel about George Floyd? How can we make the world better? Who do you know that looks different than you do, or Mommy or Daddy?  Do you have ideas about the rules or laws that are fair or not fair?”  Inquiry also gives children permission to ask questions. You might say, “If you have questions about George Floyd or protests or the police you can always ask me.” Ultimately, for young children, simple is powerful. Too much information is not helpful. Permission to ask, to wonder together, is often enough for the very young!

As always, keep young children away from uncensored media.

Music has always accompanied social change.  Below are three songs to sing with children.  Of course, there are many more, but this is a very good place to begin.  Music nurtures connection and solidarity.  Music soothes and empowers. The songs below have a message and a history!

Songs to sing:
We Shall Not Be Moved
Somos El Barco
If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus

With heavy hearts and hope for the future,
Renee Mandala, Secure Beginnings Executive Director
Ellen Nightingale, Secure Beginnings Board Chair
Carol Castanon, Secure Beginnings Parent Consultant
Adrienne Hoskins, Secure Beginnings Wisdom Council 


Excellent article from our colleagues at Zero To Three:

You will find developmentally appropriate language for talking with your child here:

Your kids are not too young: