It's natural for parents to wonder what subjects are appropriate and helpful to bring up with their children and at what ages they should be addressed.

When it comes to having a conversation about racial bias, it turns out that, for white parents, discussing how racism affects people not only helps reduce prejudice in their kids, but has a similar effect on parents as well.

A recent Northwestern University study demonstrates the positive effect of guided discussions between parents and their children about racial bias. In order to do this, the researchers designed a specific discussion guide to help white parents have “color conscious” conversations with their children. The guide acknowledges the existence and history of racism — as well as the ways it still exists in the U.S. today.

“Our results suggest that having these specific color-conscious conversations, as well as refraining from explaining away racism, is especially helpful when discussing subtler forms of racism.”

“A lot of parents worry that talking to their kids about racism could increase their children's biases, and they also feel like they don't know how to do it,” corresponding author of the study, Sylvia Perry, said in a press release. Perry is an associate professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University and principal investigator for the Social Cognition and Intergroup Processes Laboratory at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

“Our key finding, however, was that when parents used color conscious language while discussing interpersonal racism, it was associated with a significant decrease in their child's negative implicit biases toward Black people,” Perry added. Not only that, there was also significant decrease in the parents' own biased perceptions.

Researchers recruited 84 parents who identified themselves as white to participate with their child. After the pairs watched videos that showed interactions between a white and Black child showing interactions that depicted overt and subtle prejudices, as well as neutral interactions.

After the video, parents had discussions with their kids that were prompted with questions such as “Why did the white child do what they did?” and “How do you think the Black child felt after it happened?”

Children's prejudices toward Blacks declined significantly after completing the discussions.

“We specifically found beneficial effects of parents' language on their children's anti-Black biases when they were discussing subtle instances of racism,” Deborah Wu, an assistant professor of psychology at Stonehill College in Massachusetts and co-author of the study, said in a media release.

“Our results suggest that having these specific color conscious conversations, as well as refraining from explaining away racism, is especially helpful when discussing subtler forms of racism. This is especially important, as subtle forms of racism are far more common than overt racism and more likely to be dismissed by white individuals,” Wu added.

Children are never too young to learn about diversity. Books can be a helpful tool. Ask your local librarian about books appropriate for your child that could help stimulate a discussion.

The study is published in Developmental Psychology.