Supporting children and teenagers when they experience racism
Racism can harm children’s health, spirit, wellbeing and development. If your child experiences racism, your support can reduce the harm and help your child cope.
Here are ways to support your child:
- Tune in to your child’s feelings. You can do this by stopping, listening to what your child is saying and reflecting their feelings. For example, ‘It makes sense that you feel angry. I’d feel that way too if someone did this to me’.
- Praise your child for telling you what happened.
- Tell your child that what happened isn’t their fault.
- Let your child know that they can come to you whenever they want to talk.
- Remind your child of their strength and everything that makes them proud of their identity.
- Ask someone who has experienced racism to talk about how they handled it – for example, a family member or a trusted adult in your community. This might help your child feel less alone while learning how to respond to racism.
Here are ways to take action:
- Keep detailed records of racist incidents. This includes what happened, when, who was involved including witnesses, and what has happened since. Also keep evidence like emails or screenshots.
- Take any safe action your child feels comfortable with. For example, you could talk to the people involved, talk to an Aboriginal health worker or a community cultural worker, or take your child to see a GP. You might need to advocate for your child.
- Make a report or complaint, if this feels safe. For example, you could complain to the school, the sports club committee, the social media service provider, the organisation’s management or customer services team, or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Your child might feel ashamed or afraid to talk to you about their experiences of racism. If this sounds like your situation, you could suggest that your child talk to another trusted adult, like an Elder, cousin, family friend or the Aboriginal and Islander education officer or multicultural education officer at school. Or your child could call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.
Racism at school: what to do
School is one of the places that children commonly experience racism. The racism might come from students, teachers or parents.
If your child is experiencing racism from anyone at school, it’s important to address it with the school as soon as you can.
First, make an appointment with a school representative. This might be your child’s teacher, a year coordinator, an Aboriginal and Islander education officer or a multicultural education officer.
Here’s how to prepare for this meeting:
- Let your child know that you’re going to involve the school and explain why this is important. For example, ‘I’m going to talk to your teacher about what happened so that we can work together to make it stop’.
- Ask your child whether they’d like to be at the meeting. Also ask what your child wants you to say.
- Plan what you want to say. You could make notes to take with you.
- Consider whether you’d like to bring a support person with you, like another trusted adult.
Here’s how to talk with the school representative about the racism:
- Calmly explain the incident to the school representative and share any evidence you have.
- Ask how the school plans to address the racism and stop it happening in the future.
- Ask for a copy of the school’s discrimination policy. Ask how the policy will be put into action in your child’s situation.
- Write down what you and the school discuss and agree on.
- End the meeting with a plan for managing the situation and a time for a follow-up meeting.
Here are things you can do after the meeting with the school representative:
- If your child wasn’t at the meeting, explain to them what happened at the meeting.
- Check that your child is OK with any decisions made at the meeting.
- Summarise the action plan in writing and send this summary to the school – for example, by email. Include a note that everyone involved has agreed to the plan.
- Keep in touch with the school representative.
- If the school doesn’t have clear and appropriate anti-racism policies and practices, ask the school to make changes. For example, the school could include clear anti-racism policies, practices and staff training in its discrimination policy.
If you feel that your concerns aren’t being addressed by the school representative, you can take this issue to your school’s leadership team or principal.
If you still feel that your concerns aren’t being addressed, you can seek advice from:
- the education department in your state or territory (for public schools)
- your school’s board of governors (for independent schools)
- the Catholic Education Commission in your state or territory (for Catholic schools).
It’s a good idea to have frequent and age-appropriate conversations about racism with your child, not just when they experience racism. This helps your child develop anti-racist attitudes and prepare for witnessing or experiencing racism. It also shows your child that it’s safe to talk to you about racism and other tough topics.
Racism in other settings: what to do
Children experience racism in settings other than schools too – for example, sport or clubs.
You can adapt the steps for dealing with racism at school to other settings. For example:
- If the racist incident happened during your child’s sports match, report it to the venue or sports club.
- If it happened online, report it to the social media service provider or the eSafety Commissioner.
- If it happened in a shopping centre, report it to the centre management.
Professional help for children and teenagers experiencing racism
When children and teenagers experience racism, it can lead to health and wellbeing problems.
It’s important to seek professional help if your child shows signs of childhood mental health problems or teenage mental health problems after experiencing racism. These signs include mood, behaviour, sleep or physical health changes that go on for more than a few weeks.
It’s best if you can choose a professional who knows how to help children who’ve experienced racism. Most professionals outline their experience and skills on their websites. And some organisations can recommend certain professionals for issues on racism. You can also ask professionals directly. For example, ‘What experience do you have working with children experiencing racism?’ or ‘How do you commit to anti-racism within your practice?’
You might consider seeking legal advice if:
- Your child’s safety is at risk.
- Violence or criminal offences have occurred.
- You think a person or organisation has treated your child unfairly or unreasonably.
You can also make a discrimination complaint to:
- your Commonwealth Ombudsman
- the Australian Human Rights Commission
- your state or territory’s anti-discrimination commission.
If you or your child are ever in immediate or life-threatening danger, call emergency services on 000 straight away.
When your family is experiencing racism: looking after yourself
It’s upsetting to find out that your child is experiencing racism. It’s also upsetting if the racist incident involves you or triggers memories of your own experiences.
Looking after yourself can help you cope with your family’s experiences of racism. And if you look after yourself, you’ll be better able to support your child.
Here are ways to look after yourself:
- Talk to friends or family about how you’re feeling.
- Ask for and accept practical help from family and friends – for example, help with household tasks. This can give you more time to relax and look after yourself.
- Search online for a local or online support group to meet others who might have similar experiences.
- Contact a parenting helpline or local mental health services for support.
- Look after your physical health. This includes eating well and exercising, resting and connecting with Country when you can.
- Try breathing exercises, muscle relaxation or mindfulness to relax and reduce stress.
If you’re struggling to cope, see your GP or a health worker in your community. They can refer you to a mental health professional or connect you with other appropriate services.
If you’ve experienced racism, you could talk with your child about your experience openly and in an age-appropriate way. For example, you could describe your feelings and what you did or are doing to cope. This can help your child learn how to handle their own experiences of racism.