Talking to kids about social injustice and discrimination

As a cultural institution and a place for children, Chicago Children’s Museum is constantly thinking about how kids understand and interact with the world around them, and how that world impacts them. Kids’ ears can pick up bits and pieces of the most complicated conversations, which in turn can prompt adult-sized questions.

Regardless of your political beliefs, these conversations can bring up questions and concerns about discrimination and fairness, and it can be challenging to know the best ways to tackle it with your kids.

We’ve put together some ideas for parents and caregivers to have meaningful conversations with children of all ages about issues of equality and diversity, and how to get those conversations started.


Teach them empathy.

Being able to empathize with others who are treated unfairly is an early step in understanding the damage that is done by discrimination and inequality. However, kids need to learn empathy—we’re not born with it. Parents and caregivers need to talk about what it means to empathize, encourage their kids to work toward it, and model it themselves.

Sometimes books can be great discussion tools. Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry is a great story to kick off conversations about empathy.


Relate larger issues to their smaller worlds.

Children may not be able to understand the details of civil rights, but they can understand why it isn’t fair to cut in line for the playground slide. Kindness and fairness are ideas that kids understand and relate to very early on. Show kids that their worlds and the world around them are related.

The book What Does It Mean To Be Kind by Rana DiOrio talks about kindness in a world that kids understand: the classroom.


Help them explore difference—without generalizing.

We ask kids to point out which block is red and which block is blue, but when it comes to people, we insist we’re all the same. Kids notice differences—be honest and encourage them to explore those differences in positive ways.

The book The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler (and published by Chicago Children’s Museum) teaches kids to not only acknowledge difference, but to celebrate it too.


Hold yourself accountable—but not to the level of perfection.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have our own biases, and children hear what we say and take it all in. Avoid speaking in generalizations about other people and question others when they do so. If you do speak unfairly about a person or group, openly acknowledge the mistake.


Continue the conversation—but avoid oversharing.

Listen carefully to children’s questions and take cues about what they want to talk about. As adults, we have a tendency to provide too many details and concepts that may well be beyond their comprehension. Try using open-ended questions like “What are you curious about?” to get to the heart of their concerns. Then you can help them find more information about what they would like to know. And if you’re not sure how to start the conversation, you can always turn to books like the ones we listed above.


Talking about prejudice and discrimination is not something we can check off a list—it’s an ongoing conversation. Help your children see the world through a lens of compassion and kindness throughout their childhoods that will last well into their adult lives.


From Playspace To Practice: 4 Lessons I’ve Learned

Mary SueOur Early Learning Program Manager, Mary Sue Reese, is about to get a new title: Mom! Here she shares four lessons she has learned in the Pritzker Playspace that she plans to use in motherhood.

Slow down!: When I slow down I am able to witness and support children as they delve into their own interests, explorations, and navigate interactions with peers and caregivers.

Be Observant:  I love actively observing early learners explore movement, language and investigate simple (and messy!) materials at their own pace and in their own way.  Their competencies, personalities and interests really shine through when I’m free of my agenda and tune into theirs.

Be Fully Present: As a soon-to-be new mom, I hope that I continue to work on being fully present and provide the space and time for my new little one to overcome challenges, build relationships and make meaning of his/her world. 

“Do less, observe more, Do less, enjoy more.”: This is one of my favorite quotes and has become a mantra for me when facilitating in the playspace and hopefully will serve me well into motherhood.

Dine Without the Whine

Photo Credit Kati Garner

Photo Credit Kati Garner

You’re seated in a restaurant, about to enjoy a wonderful meal, when a nearby child goes into a major meltdown, complete with screaming and other forms of auditory torture.

a) Wince at your dining companion and hope it will end before dessert.
b) Glare at the parents and/or child.
c) Ask for your food to go and wait by the door.
d) Throw yourself on the floor and pitch your own fit.
e) None of the above, since, oops, it’s your child.

Perhaps you’re wondering: why bring kids along? Besides the simple need to eat together as a family and/or avoid the extra expense of a babysitter, children can gain a great deal from eating in a restaurant. In addition to acquiring social skills, children have a wonderful opportunity for language development and, depending on your choice of restaurant, may learn about a culture or cuisine beyond your own.

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