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Managing Racial Stress: Guidance For Parents


A large and growing body of research shows that the effects of racial stress on health are measurable and negative. In order to raise healthy children of color, especially black and brown children, it is crucial that we understand and manage racial stress, both that of the children and that of the adults who care for them.

Watch this Talking Race & Kids online conversation with leaders of the American Psychological Association’s racial and ethnic socialization outreach, the RESilience Initiative. They talk to Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace about what racial stress is and they share strategies we can use to minimize its effects.
And of course they take questions from the larger EmbraceRace community, people like you! Below, you'll find an edited transcript of the conversation.

EmbraceRace: We're joined by Lauren Caldwell, Keyona King-Tsikata and Tiffany Townsend from the American Psychological Association. We're so happy you could be here tonight! The three of you direct different offices at the APA and you came together to lead this initiative. So we want to start by asking you to tell us, what is the RESilience Initiative?

Lauren Caldwell: First I want to say thanks so much for having us on. We're very excited about joining you tonight and getting to talk about this important issue. So thanks very much.

The RESilience Initiative is focused on getting resources to parents and other caregivers - resources to be able to work with their children to develop a strong and supported racial identity, which is so important for all kids growing up. We know that a positive and supported racial identity really does help children be resilient, which ties into the name of the initiative.

So our goals are just that. To get parents resources for working with their kids to develop a strong identity and to develop a strong sense of their own race and have that support. Also to increase the effective use of these skills because racial socialization happens no matter whether you mean for it to or not, it's happening all around. But the research shows that being purposeful is a great way to go about it.

Another goal is also to help parents deal with their own stress around issues related to race. In their efforts to try to help their children, they have their own issues. So that's part of it. And to do this we have a network of about 150 experts who are working with us to develop those resources.

EmbraceRace: Thank you for that. When we talk about racial stress, what do we mean? How does that manifest? How does one suffer and who suffers from racial stress?

Tiffany Townsend: Hi, thank you for having us. As Lauren said this is exciting. As you know, we are very passionate about this and so I'm looking forward to the lively discussion that I'm sure we will have!

One of the things that Lauren mentioned is that we provide resources. And one of the resources that my office has produced is a video series on race-related stress, to raise the awareness of what race-related stress is, who it impacts, how it affects us emotionally, physically, cognitively. And so I thought it would be a really good foundation just to show a short clip which gives a brief overview of what stress is and how race-related stress is similar and different from general stress and who is impacted by that.

I'll play that now ...

Clip from APA's "Racism in America" video​ plays

Dr. Thomas Parham: When I think about the notion of race-related stress I'm drawn back to the kind of core of what stress is in the first place. Stress is in a clinical sense the rate of wear and tear on one's body. So anything you believe is exerting pressure, tension, nervousness, some kind of energy that you feel intellectually, emotionally, behaviorly, even spiritually is going to cause that kind of tension and stress. If we contextualize that within the context of race-related stress, DuBois was clear that the problem of the 20th century would be the color line. And race is still one of the most anxiety provoking issues in America. So when folks think about race and the tension and the stress that that creates and the debilitating effects that race has, when you think about the rate of wear and tear on one's body within the context of the racial landscape that an individual has to navigate and negotiate every day. Most of that for most folks becomes distress even though some parts of it is eustress.

Dr. April Thames: If we think about getting married or starting a new job those things are really exciting but they're also stressful as well. So when we think about those positive stressors, those only last for a particular duration of time. Whereas race-related stressors, not only are they negative, but they're very chronic. And across all the literature on stress, it's pretty consistent that the longer a stressor is, it has a more profound impact on physical mental health and cognitive outcomes.

Stressors that are short in duration are actually necessary for us and they're actually good for us for survival. It kind of helps us build resiliency and grit. That's the thought - is that you do need a certain amount of stress and challenges in your life in order for that to be, kind of build that hardiness.

However, when stressors are chronic in duration and they do not have an endpoint, that is when we tend to see the adverse impacts. So if we think about race-related stress as a chronic stressor, yes it can be thought to be in the domain that's similar to other types of chronic stressors. However there is an appreciation that race-related stress is qualitatively different because it is impacting the individual. It's a threat to the individual's identity versus, say, a medical condition that is every day and chronic, that's not really a threat to somebody's identity.

Dr. Kira Hudson Banks: Race-related stress is coming from the institutions that we're a part of. The structures and systems that are really baked into how we do society. So the reality is that there's no escaping that race-related stress. And when we have that sort of chronic stress it can impact our mental and physical well-being. And the reality is that we as beings can't stay in a constant state of hyper alert or that constant state of high stress. And so race-related stress is particularly pernicious because you have to figure out how to navigate and move on with your life and be productive alongside of experiencing this type of stress that there's no escape from.

If we think about someone who's a cancer patient that's chronic as well. Yet in our society we have all sorts of sympathy for someone who's experiencing cancer not just the individual but their family. We might bring them food. Same with having a baby. We might do all sorts of things to support that individual. But there's a way in which experiencing racism and the race-related stress that comes from that system of repression is not something we typically, on a day to day basis, rally around each other to support. And so it's the chronicity and the way in which racism is baked into our society.

Tiffany Townsend: So I wanted to provide that because I wanted to give you a sense of how parents who are dealing with their own race-related stress have to make parental decisions in the context of daily stressors in addition to specific race-related stressors.

EmbraceRace: Yeah, and I know parents out there are thinking, parenting is already so stressful. That's a lot to be juggling.

So, in broad strokes, what's the work that has to be done? How do we minimize the effects [of racial stress]?

Keyona King-Tsikata: First is that we just have to recognize that it's there, to recognize that we've had past experiences, as it relates to race and discrimination. And be intentional and thoughtful about how we are socializing our children based on those.

And so one example that I can give as a parent of children of color is, you know, school just recently started. Kids are going back to school and a lot of parents are really excited and they're wondering who the teacher is. That's going on. But with race-related stress there's this added kind of invisible burden that you hold that other people aren't aware of. And so it's not just that we're finding out who the teacher is and we're excited. But we're on the teacher's Facebook page, looking at their tweets, looking for signs of discrimination or some sort of racial bias. Looking at the friends of their friends. It's that additional burden that we carry.

Another example is that the way that we view the things that are happening with our children is again based on our past experiences of discrimination. An example for me that impacted my parenting was, I was looking at a video on Facebook, and this was after I put the kids to bed. And that video showed my son's classroom singing songs and dancing and playing. And during the whole video I see the whole class having a wonderful time looking like they're partying. But my son is standing there in a trance. And this thing bothered me so much that I called my husband. I said, "I need you to take a look at this. Do you see this? What's going on? What happened?" And he's like, "We'll just deal with it in the morning." And I tried very hard to deal with it in the morning but it resulted in me waking my son up after 10:00 at night to ask him specifically what was going on. And his explanation was that he was just reading. So while the other kids were dancing and enjoying and having fun he was reading some text. And that was it.

But prior to me waking him up, I had already made these decisions about how I was going to miss work and how big of a deal this was going to be. I was going to have to go and confront the teacher, confront the other school. And so those are some of the ways that it manifests and we know that it has physical implications and other kind of cognitive implications in people's lives.

Tiffany Townsend: And so we're dealing with those stressors, but then how do you minimize them? How do you mitigate the stress that you're experiencing? And how do you help to prevent it from impacting the decisions that you make? Maybe you can't, right? But one of the things that we know is that you can use some of the same strategies that you use to manage general stress. Listening to music, meditating, you know, going for a walk. Those are things that you can do personally.

But when it comes to race-related stress, another strategy that I think is important to emphasize is that social justice and trying to change the structure, the institutional kind of barriers that we're experiencing, is healing. It's empowering. And so finding ways that you personally can change the status quo is a way for you to take some control. And that level of control, feeling that you have some control, that you have some ability to effect change - that's empowering and that helps to reduce stress as well.​

EmbraceRace: Thank you for those comments, Keyona and Tiffany. One thing we wanted to ask though and we did get a question related to this, is who is the "you" that we're speaking to? Right. So I think that the strong implication of what we've said so far is that we're talking largely about people of color right? Parents of color or perhaps even parents of children of color who themselves may not be, but they're dealing with, right, the sort of concerns at least about you know their child, who is a kid of color.

However I'm thinking about, you know something you said earlier, I think, Lauren when you were talking about what the initiative is about and how you know we're talking about racial identity. Right and everyone has a racial identity and you think about how we hear that, you know a significant number of white Americans think that reverse racism is as big a deal or bigger deal than racism, you know. Or are just you know stressed because the country, not all whites of course, or even most necessarily, but certainly a significant number who are concerned that the country is becoming browner, that white people become minority.

So is this notion of racial stress applicable to whites or are we really talking about people of color?

Lauren Caldwell: It is applicable to everyone, although I don't want to indicate in any way that most white people experience it at the same level or even understand the experiences that people of color have. But to answer the question, what is race-related stress for white parents? You worry that your child is going to say something about skin tone or other things related to race and ethnicity when they're young and they're growing up. You wonder if you've had the right conversations with them and you wonder about how to help them be an ally as opposed to someone who goes along [maintains a racial status quo].

It goes back to the ally question. If you're in a situation on the playground with a bunch of kids and you are seeing micro aggressions or you're seeing discrimination and bias, how do you respond and help in the moment when there's not the other parents around. Or if there are, how do you support or help to deal with the situation, whether or not your child’s involved? So it's complex and multi leveled, although I wouldn't begin to say it's as complex as it is for people of color to deal with.

Tiffany Townsend: As we were saying, racial stress is stress, right? And so we all experience some level of stress. But as the experts in the video mention, it’s the chronicity of race-related stress that makes it qualitatively different, and the fact that you can't escape it.

The other piece is, the levels of power and privilege and oppression will make this very different. So you, as an ally, could experience vicarious trauma and stress by witnessing someone experiencing being oppressed. But you can also escape that. Right? So you can leave that situation. You can choose not to look at that situation. And there is a way in which the stress that people of color and parents of color experience, there's a limited feeling of control, right. That feeling of being disempowered and disenfranchised and oppressed that is a very different experience and has a very different impact on the mental health, the psyche, the physical health of people of color. So we're not saying that only people of color experience race-related stress. Certainly not. But it's qualitatively different because of the experience of oppression and power and privilege. ​

EmbraceRace: Thank you for that Tiffany. This is great.

So I want to get a little deeper into the ally question and just thinking of the example that Keyona gave about stress around your child’s experience at school.

When you have kids of color, you look at the books and you look around the walls of the classroom for [diverse racial] representation. You wonder if your kid's identity is going to be supported, right.

Can we give examples, whether it's going to a friend's home or going to school, where someone was an ally?

Where a parent walks in and goes, ahhhhh [signs in relief], or hears something and thinks, oh it's going to be OK.

And I can give one example that we experienced very early with our first daughter. She started kindergarten and we just had no idea what to expect, and the teachers were white, for the most part. And early on our daughter came home and said, "I was star for the day," and we asked, "Well, what does that mean?" And basically this great teacher Kara McCloskey had the kids come up with five questions to ask each other. And then everyone got to be a star for the day, each on a different day. On that day they were interviewed by the class. And the rest of the class had to draw that person. First, the star had to pick her skin color. They had all the skin color crayons and Lola came home and said, "I'm a burnt sienna.” And I saw on a piece of paper that she had been trying out lots of different colors to find the nearest match. This was in the first weeks of kindergarten and immediately the teacher is basically saying, "I see you and we can talk about skin color." That really made us relax. Like, wow, this is a special teacher, really a special kind of white person, who's thinking about welcoming everybody. So maybe there are other examples you guys have as well, really to further answer the question, what can allies or accomplices do?

Keyona King-Tsikata: I think that having that level of comfort in having those difficult conversations, those you know courageous conversations about race because when you're in a setting where it's uncomfortable to talk about it, then that's really where it becomes institutionalized, the racial bias, because it's uncomfortable. And so what allies can do is respond appropriately when issues come up about race. Of course, sometimes [educators respond inappropriately], not knowing how to respond.

So another example, at a preschool. One of the kids wanted to bite the child of color to see if they taste like chocolate. This is just a normal curious response of children. But the school felt very nervous and uneasy about responding to this. And they wrote some, they sent out a communication to let the families know and it just, you could feel that tension in their [uneasy] response to this which was really kind of a normal response and it was an OK response [by the child]. And it was a missed opportunity to have that greater discussion with children. And so I would just say, [allies need to develop] the ability to comfortably have these courageous conversations, difficult dialogues about these issues and to engage and embrace the parents of color and other groups.

Tiffany Townsend: So really quickly, the other piece that I was going to say to that is it would be great for allies to not wait for people of color to always raise the race issue. To always be the one to raise the race flag. And so to have an ally. That's in essence what you were saying about the [white kindergarten teacher who engaged students in conversation about] skin tone. That you had someone who was not of color who has the luxury to not think about skin tone but who took it upon herself to say, this is important and I want this to be a safe space to talk about that. And so if other allies can do that, where there are issues that are relevant and salient for communities of color, but not wait for the community or the person of color to always be the one to raise the flag. Not to look to the person of color to educate everybody about what this means. I think that's really important.

And then the other piece [for allies] is standing up to injustice. Right? When you see injustice happening be the one to call somebody on it. And be OK with that, not to wait for communities of color to rise up in order to kind of right that injustice.

Lauren Caldwell: I was really just going to say, similar to what you said, how do we help address the parenting stress that parents of color are experiencing, or parents of children of color? If you see something that's going on, don't wait for it to always be that parent who has to raise the issue but to try to step in and help address that or make sure that there's a safe space and an environment that’s supportive so that parents don't have to be on guard. So they feel like this is a place where there can be less stress, if it's at the playgroup or it's in a playground or in the school or the PTA or wherever it is. Be very mindful of that and to really try to help and be attuned to those issues and not put it always on the parent who's gonna experience the stress to bring it up.

EmbraceRace: Thank you, Lauren, and thank you, all of you. I'm sure it is true for you, Tiffany, and you, Keyona, and it's certainly true for me that so often, as a kid and even now, I've been one of 30, 40, 50 people in a room and the only person of color. And the one who has to raise an issue. In my experience, when you do that there have always been at least a few people, white people in the room, who say, "Absolutely!" Right? And then you're thinking well, why didn't you bring it up? [laughs] Why did I have to be the one to raise this issue? Right, having waited and hoped that someone else would do it.

Community Q&A

EmbraceRace: Now we're going to open it up – there are questions coming in. So let me actually start with the first one submitted.

This is from Bianca and she says, "How do I react with less of the emotional piece when my own child says something painful. For instance my three and a half year old just shared, ‘Mommy, I'm sad that I'm not white.’ My initial reaction was very emotional. I'm Latina. My son is multiracial. Looks brown. And that's causing stress.”

Tiffany: Yeah. So the first piece to that is to acknowledge and validate that feeling because that is painful. For many of us, we have spent our lives trying to accept our identity in an environment and in a society that has not been very positive regarding our race and our heritage. And so when you finally get there and then you raise children in an environment that you feel like is affirming, for them to say that is hurtful, it's painful. And so acknowledge that. And take a step back. Don't try to respond when you are emotional. I think it's important that as a first step to do some self-care there first.

And then the other piece is, it's OK as parents for us to say, you know what, that's a really hard question or point. And I really want to take some time to give it some thought and let's have a conversation later about it. The other piece is to really find out, what's the underlying issue that's going on for the child to say that they want to be white? Sometimes it has less to do with heritage and race and more to do with the fact that I noticed something that's benign, and I have associated that with race. And so really understanding where that's coming from is another piece. Sometimes it has to do with the fact that you know, the white students are, they're more in the class right. And so that they seem to kind of hang together and so they've associated having friends with being white. I mean so you never know how, kids are so interesting how they make those connections. And so you have to kind of understand where the connections are actually coming from. Sometimes we put more meaning to it than the child does. And so we have to be very mindful of that before we make it an issue that's bigger than it has to be.

But sometimes you have to allow yourself some space to have the emotional reaction alone so that you can have the perspective and the distance to even ask those questions. And that's hard with a 3 year old in a way that’s developmentally appropriate. How do you have those conversations?

But certainly if you're finding out that there's some bias or different treatment in the classroom or in the setting than addressing that with the teacher or classroom would be the third step. But really kind of digging into it first. Give yourself space to kind of have your reaction. Second, kind of understand what the true situation is. And then third is come up with a strategy to address it appropriately.

EmbraceRace: Keyona, do you want to come in too?

Keyona King-Tsikata: Well that example pulled me back to a similar situation I found in my daughter's preschool class. I found that towards the end of the day, the high school students would come in and provide aftercare help. And they were helping. And what they would do is play in the little girls’ hair. So they would put them in ponytails and barrettes and do things like that. And my daughter as a young girl of color, her hair was not as easy for them to play with because it was uncomfortable for some of the white adolescents who were there kind of helping around the school. And so her response was that she wanted her hair like her other friends so that they can play with it and touch it and manipulate it. So it was an experience that she wasn't having that all of her friends were having.

And so I had that conversation with her, figured out what it was. We talked about it. And before she went to school I did her hair a different way that would allow for those things to happen. And I just made sure that they knew that it was comfortable and that we were okay with that because she wanted to have that experience. And so like Tiffany said, you have to dissect it to find out where it's coming from - that was something that I was able to do through conversation with her about why that issue came up. I learned that this was something that was happening on a daily basis and she wasn't able to participate in it because of the type of hair and types of hairstyles that she wore.​

EmbraceRace: That's really helpful.

So Michelle asks this question. When we talk about race-related stress, is it on the same level as traumatic stress and would we treat it similarly to treating traumatic stress?

Tiffany: So the trauma will dictate how much stress you are exposed to and what your exposure is. Obviously, there are very traumatic race-related stress situations. There's also trauma that's related to other kinds of events that aren't race-related. Physiologically they're similar. Your body responds to stress in the same way.

I think the difference is, if the stress you experience as it relates to trauma, depending on what type that trauma is, if it's not chronic, if it's not something that's cumulative, then you can address that trauma. Sometimes race-related stress can be very traumatic depending on what the exposure or the experiences and then the chronicity of it. It's hard for folks to escape it.

So I think as far as physically it's very similar. Your body is going to respond in a similar way if you experience the trauma as it relates to kind of a physical attack or a racial kind of incident, you're going to have the same kind of physiological response. And the emotional response depends on your perception of how traumatic that event was. And so some people have race-related events that they perceive as much more traumatic than others. They could have the same experience and not perceive it in the same way. So it's individual. It depends on how a person perceived the situation. If they perceive it as a very traumatic experience, then yes it would be very similar to a traumatic event.

We also know that race-related stress changes how we act, how we behave. And so, just another example is on television watching the unarmed black man at random speed stops and being pulled over and being shot and killed. How that can change someone's behavior. So me as a parent and married to an African-American male, when I see those things, I don't want him to drive our family around. It changes my experience. I say, "I'd rather you sit in the passenger seat and let me drive." And so yeah I think it is equally kind of traumatic sometimes - those exposures to those things and the way that you respond to them.

And there's vicarious trauma. And I think we're experiencing a lot of that with the exposure to social media showing the killing of unarmed humans on a regular basis that really does have an impact on those who are viewing it. Particularly those of color because they feel like, this could be me. This could be my son. This could be my brother or my father. And so that's very traumatic. And depending on how people perceive those situations would dictate how you would respond. And some may feel more trauma than others.

But we should be very clear about this vicarious trauma that we're experiencing now and how it impacts our kids. They're seeing this and not really understanding the depth of what they're seeing. We have to explain that this is not a videogame, this is a human being, to ensure that they're not being desensitized to the fact that there's someone who was shot and killed. This is a human. [Vicarious trauma] has a definite impact on how we parent and how kids experience what they're seeing and understand what they're seeing. So yeah, there's a lot of trauma involved in a lot of these experiences and certainly it's a continuum, but I definitely see it along the same lines as trauma, traumatic exposure.

EmbraceRace: OK. Let me ask another question. And this is about institutionalizing support, going beyond individuals managing stress or supporting others.

Maria asks, "What would a support group look like that's focused on lessening the impact of racial stress for parents of color in a school based setting?” So how do we enact what you're talking about in the context of a group and make it available and supportive of a range of parents of color? What might that look like? What do they need to think about?

Tiffany: First thing is creating a safe space. I have found that when you're talking about very sensitive topics that it's important for the group to be semi-closed. I think it's hard when you have people dropping in and out - who come to some meetings and don't come to others - for people to feel safe to kind of share. I say closed, not meaning that you don't allow everyone to come, but that there's an expectation that people come on a regular basis and that there is no dropping in and out because that's what creates that safe space.

Another piece that I think is really important is confidentiality. What goes on in this group stays in this group. There has to be an appreciation for people to feel they can share their experiences.

Also, having ground rules about the discussion. I mean it's very similar to rules that you would have for any therapeutic or supportive group. That you have to kind of have ground rules about how you're sharing and how respectful you are to your members. That's really important. These conversations are hard and sometimes they get very emotional. And so you have to be prepared for the types of things that could come out.

For our video series, we created a discussion guide because if you're not prepared for how emotional these conversations can get, you can sometimes do more harm than good. Because you're allowing things in conversations to get to a place that it becomes hard to pull it back. So you have to be really prepared. And so we have some facilitation tips. A big piece of that is to have a facilitator who has thought about their own racial identity and development and where they are and they're comfortable with their identity. That's important that they've explored their identity on their own first and that they've thought about how some of these conversations can be difficult. And what do you do when difficult topics come up. That you're prepared for that.

So it's a matter of creating a space where people feel comfortable. And there definitely are strategies that you can use to do that. But the biggest piece is allowing people to share and to have a safe space for them to kind of give their story and to tell their truth. ​

EmbraceRace: Thank you for that, Tiffany.

I have a question from Eileen who asks, "Can the panelists speak to some other developmental issues regarding how children respond to race-related stress at different ages?"

Lauren Caldwell: You definitely do see different responses across ages for kids. And the reaction is going to be similar to the type of reaction you will see to other stressors, too, except that you might, over time see it become a little flatter. With younger kids, you may have anger. They may show a sort of acting out, lack of understanding, confusion, but over time it may become flatter. And that's NOT a good thing! So you want to be able to address the stress when you see those reactions. As kids get older that changes and you may see anger that manifests in a different way. You may see depression. You may see anxiety. [Especially in] children who may not be able to talk about it, if it's not being talked about in their environments. And that continues to progress all the way up through the teenage years and beyond.

Tiffany: No I think Lauren really captured it. A lot of times kids don't understand what they're experiencing so you'll see that acting out behavior in the beginning. And one of the things that I have seen in the literature as it relates to older kids and adolescents is that, when they are socialized to the discrimination, the power and privilege, without also getting messages about heritage and being proud of who you are – so you just kind of get the discrimination, but you don't get kind of the positive reinforcing piece, that instills more anger and hostility and depression. And so you want kids to be prepared. You want them to understand that there are imbalances and biases in our society but you also want to balance that with positive messages about the heritage and the positive aspects of their history and their culture to act as a salve to that, a balm if you will. Because otherwise, if you just understand the disempowerment, the discrimination and the oppression and you don't really understand all the positive aspects of it. It's no wonder people are angry. It's no wonder that they're hostile. It's no wonder that they're depressed. It's no wonder that they may say, "I don't want to be this person if all I have is the experience of this oppression." So, yeah, we see that more with adolescents where they have to have that balance and I think that's true for everyone. You just have to make the messages developmentally appropriate.

EmbraceRace: Thank you, Tiffany and Lauren. We have time for a couple more questions and one is from Riana:

“Are mental health professionals being trained on addressing these specific stressors?” And, a second: “How can we better equip practitioners to do this work?” To benefit from what people like you know and bring those practices into, for example, the classroom, if it's a teacher?

Lauren Caldwell: Some mental health professionals are being trained to address these issues. Not as many as we'd like to see. We definitely are trying to increase the number of training programs that include addressing race-based stress. We also are providing resources. So for instance, we have a resource on cultural humility and on engaging with people of color. And we also are trying to offer more continuing education. There's definitely an issue with workforce. We think that it's very important to recruit more diversity into the workforce providing mental health care. And so that's something that we're trying to do as well. That's an ongoing struggle.

As far as the second part about, how do we better equipped practitioners? Again we’re certainly developing resources for that through the RESilience Initiative, and also trying to offer continuing education, trying to increase awareness among training programs that this needs to happen and increase opportunities for current practitioners whether they be teachers or mental health professionals or others to get that training.

Tiffany: And I'll just add to that because Lauren' right. The training as it relates to race and the impact of racial stress on communities is inconsistent. There is an expectation that practitioners be culturally competent, but there is no consistent definition of what that means. And so sometimes that could mean understanding race for some and what ends up happening is mental health care providers who understand and feel like that's important will seek out the continuing education in order to do that. I know licensed psychologists have to kind of have a certain amount of continuing education in order to get their license renewed in each state. Well some states require that you have some cultural competence training in those hours. But they don't dictate what that is. It could be something that's related to race. But it may not be.

One of the things that our office is [sheparding] is some guidelines on how mental health care providers, psychologists and other mental health care providers are dealing with race and ethnicity in their work to make it more consistent. We have a task force that's working on those guidelines and we're hoping that they will be approved by the APA Council sometime in 2019. But we're still working on that. The thing with those guidelines is they're aspirational. APA can't force folks, they're not standards, so we can't say if you don't do it this way you can't get licensed. But what we have found is that folks have looked at the multicultural guidelines, which are umbrella guidelines to talk about diversity more broadly. Practitioners look to those. And they cite them heavily. So we know that there are mental health care providers who see these as gold standards even though we can't name them as standards. And so we're hoping that these very specific race and ethnicity guidelines will be viewed in the discipline in the same way. That people will reference them. That they will actually use them in their work and that they will be used as a basis for training and education.

EmbraceRace: There were a couple questions about internalized racism and fighting that or helping a child combat that and here's a related one from Sandy: "My child of color is going to an almost all white school. He is perhaps one of less than a handful of children of color in five kindergarten classes and our surrounding community is predominately white as well. I feel like this, in and of itself, is traumatic. How can I support him on an ongoing basis as he grows up in this school and community?"

Lauren Caldwell: Well I'll take a quick stab at this. I think a really important thing to do is make sure that your child is seeing positive images and having positive experiences around your culture race and ethnicity in your home and with your family and in your community as much as possible. So what are the books around the house? What’s the art? What's the music? How do you help them develop warm feelings and positive imagery and associations with the race and culture that you have in your home? How do you support your child to help them feel really good about who they are? It's part of that development, using racial socialization to develop a positive identity. And then helping them bring that to the class and helping them explore it in a very positive way and to appreciate the differences is a great place to start.

Keyona King-Tsikata: Right. In terms of parenting, we don't only want to protect our children's self-esteem, we want to bolster it. Especially at those young ages. In terms of racial socialization, what we'll move to is to more preparing them for bias. So at the kindergarten age, what we can do is make sure that we're protecting their self-esteem in terms of the experiences they’re having and having those discussions with them. And then also providing ways to bolster self-esteem as we move towards what's developmentally appropriate, because we know what's coming soon after that, is preparing them for the bias they're going to experience.

And there are lots of parents that feel the same way. There are already some groups out there, like Jack and Jill, for instance, where the goal is to provide an environment that is culturally rich, that really supports the racial identity development of black kids in predominantly white environments. And so seeking out some of those community-based organizations to do that, getting involved in church where there is more diversity would be very helpful.

Another option: I had a girlfriend whose kids went to a private school that was predominantly white. And there were other parents and families having the same experience. And what they did was they started having heritage activities on the weekend as a group at the school. And they approached the administration and the administration allowed them to have a program at certain times of the year that would celebrate diversity and heritage. And so there are ways that we can create the environment that we'd like to have. It is more work but there are organizations that can help.

EmbraceRace: Thank you so much, Lauren Caldwell, Keyona King-Tsikata and Tiffany Townsend of the American Psychological Association’s RESilience Initiative. We really appreciate having you on and look forward to more collaboration. Thanks everyone for joining and for all that you've shared and which we’ll share. Check out the APA’s RESilience Initiative website and contact them at to let them know what resources would be most helpful to you.


Racial Ethnic Socialization (RES) is a process through which parents influence “children's racial identity and self-concept, beliefs about the way the world works, and repertoire of strategies and skills for coping with and navigating racism and inter- and intra-racial relationships and interactions.” The RESilience Initiative will provide resources to parents and others to assist them in promoting strength, health and well-being among youth of color. Check out their parent resources. The RESilience Initiative is just getting started and aims to be responsive to the needs of parents and caregivers. They welcome your input at

This is the first in a series of videos put out by the American Psychological Association under the rubric Facing the Divide. The series aims to bring psychological science into conversations regarding the connections among race, racism and health. This first video in the series features a cross-section of people of color — all psychologists or doctoral students in psychology — talking about the toll that pervasive, institutionalized racism has had on them, their families and other people of color in America.

Printable PDF outlining the basics of why parents should and how they can be proactive in socializing children around race and ethnicity at different developmental ages.

Lauren G. Caldwell

Lauren G. Caldwell, JD, PhD, is the director of the Children, Youth and Families Office (CYFO) of the American Psychological Association. More about Lauren G. >
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Keyona King-Tsikata

Keyona King-Tsikata, MPH, is the director of the Office on Socioeconomic Status (OSES) of the American Psychological Association. More about Keyona >
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Tiffany G. Townsend

Tiffany G. Townsend, PhD, is the senior director of the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA) at the American Psychological Association. More about Tiffany G. >
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