Children are not, by nature, racist. Nor are they born with damaging assumptions about people in any definable group.
We all begin with a winning trust in others, an expectation that people will be good to each other, and that life with others will be safe and fun. When a child feels close to his parents, gets to play freely with lots of laughter, gets plenty of affection, and has sensible limits set by grown-ups who don't attack him, a young person can feel at home with himself, and relaxed with others.
Contrary to popular belief, children have a keen inborn sense of justice. They are built to protest loudly when they or someone else is being treated badly. This sense of justice runs deep. You probably can remember times in your childhood when you or someone you cared about was attacked, verbally or physically. You didn't have to be told that this treatment was wrong and should be stopped immediately. You just knew.
We don't have to teach children respect for people of other ethnic groups and abilities. We simply need to preserve their trust in themselves and others, and their inborn sense of justice. If children feel safe and strong, they will respond with indignation to racism, whether it's directed at them or at someone else. They will know that the racist attitude they have witnessed is wrong, and won't adopt it as their own.
How to raise unprejudiced children
1. Make sure you're a good role model - Who are your friends? Who do you invite over to the house? If there's not a lot of diversity in your life, your children will pick up on that.
2. Examine your own biases. How do you react when someone from another culture is around or approaches you? Children have the ability to pick up on the slightest amount of anxiety. If your behavior changes, they will pick up on that.
3. Watch what you say. If you make fun of those who are different, your children will copy your behaviour.
4. Start the dialogue early! Don't wait until a "situation" occurs (e.g. your child is made fun of, or makes fun of someone else). Remember how young children learn stereotypes. Make sure you begin dialogue about difference early on. Communicate the message that different isn't automatically a bad thing.
5. Keep your eyes open. Who does your child play with? Do they exclude other children? Children who are different? Encourage them to develop friendships early on with children who are different (e.g. different gender, cultural background, age, etc.) Engage them in dialogue and help them determine what's fun or good about playing with someone who's different from them in some way.
6. Examine your surroundings. What are the messages in your neighborhood or community? Do the only people who are different own the neighborhood store, teach your children, clean your house, or live somewhere across the railroad tracks? Exposing your child to different cultures and lifestyles early on, enables them to learn about difference and sets the expectation that not everyone is the same.
7. Explore and discuss differences within the family - highlight ways that you differ amongst yourselves and help them to make the connection that different is not always a bad thing.
8. Read books that depict diversity and educate your children about other cultures.
9. Listen for signs of intolerance - others may make jokes or say hurtful things about other groups to be funny and your child may not understand the difference. Figure out how to respond to others who say intolerant things, and listen for your child's imitation of those messages. Listen to your child's experiences. Do not belittle or exaggerate his or her feelings and experiences.
10. Deal with racism if and when it occurs. Teach your child to always tell about racist behaviour to an adult.
11. Help your child to be proud of their background and support their bi-cultural identity.
12. Celebrate difference and provide your child with positive experience and roles models.
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