Children begin to understand racial stereotypes around ages 2-5 years
Racial prejudice can develop in the early school-age period (ages 5-8 years)
An ideal time to speak with children about prejudice is the school-age period (ages 9-12 years)
We can start by teaching children two key concepts that build the foundation for anti-racism:
“The Golden Rule”: Treat others the way you want to be treated
Fairness: Actions and consequences that are right and honorable; illustrates the difference between EQUAL and EQUITABLE
Making sure our children learn respect, fairness, and kindness for everyone, regardless of their appearance, ability or background, helps them become anti-racist.
Infants and Toddlers
Children notice differences in physical features like skin color first, so it is very important to expose them to diverse groups of people as much as possible. Daycares, activity classes, playdates, and books can help introduce them to people from different cultures. It can also enhance their social-emotional development.
Your children may ask questions about differences they observe. As you talk to them, positively celebrate diversity and differences in people. The American Psychological Association provides resources to help with these conversations and find age-appropriate content for children. Additionally, ask for and ensure exposure to books with diverse characters and concepts. In selecting these books, support authors that share authentic backgrounds with their characters and concepts.
Continue using books that highlight diversity, equity, inclusion, and also address racism and discrimination. Identify TV programs, social media sites and other programs your children enjoy. What types of experiences and examples do they provide in helping children navigate fairness and honor “The Golden Rule?” Support programming that builds their cultural knowledge.
Begin incorporating news from various media platforms to begin discussions about the nuances of issues related to racism and xenophobia. It may feel uncomfortable, particularly with the wide range of opinions offered through media and news platforms. However, it is critical to help adolescents differentiate credible facts from misinformation. They can also learn to “agree to disagree” in a respectful and fair manner. Offer guidance and support as they navigate their understanding of these concepts at a deeper level with their peers and in their classes.
Teaching anti-racism is an active part of parenting and supporting your child’s development. Never forget that all children and adolescents observe how you behave and interact, even when you are not directly talking to or teaching or parenting them. They learn how to respond and understand different situations that relate to race and racism by watching us. You must model that commitment to continual learning about active anti-racist practice too.
Jennifer Walton, MD, MPH, FAAP, is an assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University, and an attending physician in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Valencia Walker, MD, MPH, FAAP
Valencia P. Walker, MD, MPH, FAAP, is Associate Chief Diversity and Health Equity Officer at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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