How to Teach Kids About Prejudice & Discrimination

By Shelley Frost
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Children build their attitudes, opinions and habits from the behaviors they see around them. Parental attitudes and actions toward groups of people based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender and economic status develop a child's sense of how to treat people. By age 4, kids notice physical traits that set people apart, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The comments and actions kids see during those early years shapes their connections with different characteristics, potentially creating prejudice. Teaching your child to be tolerant helps her learn to deal with the diversity of people she will meet throughout her life.

Step 1

Monitor your own behaviors to watch for comments that show prejudice or discrimination. Even jokes or comments you make in passing about a religion or ethnic group can influence your child's understanding of that group of people.

Step 2

Point out differences in a positive way. If a neighbor displays a menorah, use it as a conversation starter to discuss holiday celebrations. When your child points out the color of someone's skin, discuss all of the different shades of skin in the world. You might say, "Isn't it wonderful that you can see so many different colors in the world? It would be boring if everyone looked exactly the same. Even though we might all look a little different on the outside, everyone has feelings on the inside, so it's important not to treat someone differently just because they look different than you."

Step 3

Read books that discuss diversity. Examples include "Esperanza Rising" by Pam Munoz Ryan, "Grandfather's Journey" by Allen Say, "The Keeping Quilt" by Patricia Polacco and "I Love My Hair!" by Natasha Tarpley.

Step 4

Teach your child about historical events related to discrimination and prejudice, including slavery, women's suffrage and racial segregation. Introduce your child to key figures in history, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, who fought against discrimination.

Step 5

Talk directly about discrimination and prejudice in a way your child can understand. You might say, "Some people are mean to others just because of the way they look or the things they believe. They might call them names that are mean and hurt their feelings. Sometimes people aren't allowed to do things because of those characteristics. That is called discrimination, and it can make a person feel really bad."

Step 6

Point out examples of discrimination if you see them in public or in the media. Talk to your child about why those actions or words are wrong and how they might hurt the person on the receiving end. Let your child know that she should never act that way to avoid hurting another person.

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