How to Explain Skin Color to Kids


Any parent who’s had to stop in their tracks (and panic) when their child asks why someone’s skin is so dark, will appreciate this simple answer:

Your closeness to the sun’s equator is what determines the color of your skin. So maybe that person’s family originated from somewhere close to the equator.

The trick is applying that fact to the ridiculousness of judging someone’s character based on their skin color.

Here are our recommendations.

1. Keep it Simple

Talk about skin color in practical terms. Explain that the closer your country of origin is to the equator (and the sun), the darker your skin is because human skin naturally creates a dark pigment (melanin) to protect itself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

That’s why tropical climates (closest to the sun) are populated by dark-skinned people and people who live near the north/south pole (farthest from the sun) are light skinned. Other than that, humans are essentially the same.

The goal in this step is to introduce, simply, the relationship between skin color and the sun’s equator.

2. Locate your family’s location on a global map

How close to the sun’s equator do you live now as a family? Look on a globe or on a map together. Reiterate how your distance to the sun’s rays determines your skin color. Talk about it.

Maybe this subject has already come up as part of a school project? If so, revisit what your child learned. Let them take the lead so they feel some ownership of the topic.

The goal here is to make this subject relatable to your child by talking about it in terms of their world.

3. Talk about how silly it is to assign character traits based on skin color

Now pivot the conversation by saying that your distance to/from the equator might affect your skin color but it has absolutely zero effect on your intellect, propensity for violence, moral compass, work ethic, etc. (Note: use age-appropriate language)

TIP: Remember to keep it simple. Kids don’t want a complicated, drawn-out explanation. Period. They just want a basic answer so they can move on.

Give them as many simple examples and metaphors as you can so they have options for remembering. Maybe someone you both know has dark skin and is also an accomplished professional. Or maybe you have a respected neighbor or friend with dark skin — either one would be a great example.

This logic will (hopefully) help your child gain a deeper understanding of how skin color is completely unrelated to the kind of person you are.

As your child grows, keep answering questions and reiterating that skin color is irrelevant to character traits. You never know what nugget of information their minds will latch onto when you’re trying to explain something.

This post was previously published on


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