Prejudice is a learned behavior.
This means people are not born with an understanding of diversity, they are taught it. We are taught to be mean to others. We are taught to hate.
It is not necessarily families who are teaching these ideas, rather they pick it up through social cues and our culture. Meaning the role of the parent is crucial.
As parents, we need to teach kids about diversity and acceptance.
Many children between ages 2-4 begin to notice physical differences. They are not judging or drawing conclusions, just making innocent observations. They begin to learn biases around ages 3-5. There lies a small window of opportunity from when kids notice differences to forming opinions.
It is between these ages that parents need to begin to address the issues of intolerance toward others. Use these 6 strategies to help your child understand diversity and accept individuals.
Like most things, the first step in teaching kids about diversity is to model appropriate behavior. Since most of what a child learns is through observation, this step is crucial. Do not use slang or derogatory words. Do not belittle people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion or disability. Show love and kindness to all people at all times.
Talk to Them About Prejudice
Do not shy away from the issue. Yes, the topic is uncomfortable, but not talking about it is worse. A study found that children became less prejudice after discussion. You do not need to wait until your child makes an inappropriate comment before talking to them. Be proactive and start a conversation today. Unsure of where to begin, try…
Reading Books Together
Introduce the topic of diversity by reading a book or watching a movie together that deals, in a positive way, with this issue. Then talk about it. Talk about the good and the bad; the behavior a child should and should not emulate.
Have Meaningful Interactions
Build relationships with people and encourage your child to do the same. Meet new people in your neighborhood, at church or at the playground. Invite them over for playdates or dinner. Spend time to get to know the person and soon the physical differences will fade.
Unlike prejudice, empathy is innate, however nurturing it helps. Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to what another person is feeling. To cultivate empathy, we need to make caring for others a priority and provide opportunities to practice. Don’t know where to start? Try these ideas. Caring for others will help in stopping prejudice.
Look for opportunities to celebrate diversity. It can start as broad as observing Black History Month or Cinco De Mayo or as specific as being an International PenPal. Children can learn a dance or a song from a different culture. The intention is to learn more about a person’s culture, celebrate what makes them unique and do so in an enjoyable way.
This world needs more than tolerance, we need love.
Have you had an experience where your child says or reacts negatively to a person based on physical or cultural differences? How did you address the issue?