Teaching Children Not to Be Prejudiced

Prejudice comes in many forms such as racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual and economic. Prejudice is defined as having a prejudgment of something without reason or prior knowledge. Prejudice has a negative effect on children, according to child health experts at HealthyChildren.org because it can foster violence and hostility toward others, and damage a victim's self-esteem.

A Tolerant Environment

As children's first teachers, parents play a critical role in teaching their kids to be tolerant of others' differences. Younger children -- about 4 years old -- can identify characteristics in individuals that make them different than others, such as hair color, names and spoken languages, note child health experts at HealthyChildren.org. School-age children and preteens recognize cultural and racial distinctions in people, at which time they might also learn to be prejudiced against those from other backgrounds. In addition to parents' looming influence, television programming, school settings and information gathered on the Internet also encourage kids to form prejudices against others, says Roni Liederman, associate dean of the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University. Parents can teach their kids to have respect for others' differences by modeling tolerance, encouraging their kids to be accepting of others, and addressing all racist or culturally prejudiced perspectives held by their children.

Exposure to Cultural Diversity

It's useful for parents to expose their children to cultural diversity through daily life experiences. Child health experts at KidsHealth suggest parents select books, toys and music that address cultural backgrounds and introduce your child to other ways of life 3. Parents can also take their kids to cultural museums and exhibits that teach them about how people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds live, and what they've experienced in history. When selecting a school, parents might opt to send their child to a culturally diverse school so their children can have social interactions with children from various cultural backgrounds, and learn to notice the similarities between themselves and others while respecting differences.

Open Discussions About Prejudice

KidsHealth experts suggest that parents use stereotypes portrayed in media as segues into discussions regarding prejudice against others. These discussions should be open and honest -- it's often difficult to discuss sensitive issues such as racial, gender and sexual discrimination, but it's beneficial for parents to speak candidly with their children about social issues. KidsHealth experts also recommend parents notice the prejudices they've held as well. Parents can teach their children that many people have prejudices that are learned from friends and family, but that they don't have to keep these prejudices throughout their lives, especially when they learn more about other cultures, learn to recognize similarities and embrace differences in others.

Teach and Model Critical Thinking

Cultural diversity advocates Janet Gonzalez-Mena and Dora Pulido-Tobiassen with "Scholastic" magazine online suggest parents teach children cultural tolerance by encouraging them to be critical thinkers 2. Gonzalez-Mena and Pulido-Tobiassen describe critical thinking as a process in which children learn to examine and question issues before forming judgments about people who differ from them. Parents must also model critical thinking in their lives because children learn from what their parents do -- more so than from what they say. If children watch their parents jumping on the bandwagon of a television personality spewing hatred for a particular group, those children are likely to assume that it's OK to let others shape their opinions about other cultures.