Talking to your Child about Hatred and Prejudice

Explaining violent incidents
Hate is learned and can be "unlearned"
Talking to children about diversity: Preschool years
Talking to children about diversity: Onset of formal education
Hate hurts
Teaching children begins by taking a look at ourselves
An exercise for teaching diversity

Related ADL Articles:
Discussing Hate & Violence with Your Children
What to Tell Your Child About Prejudice
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From The ADL Material Resource Center:
Books for Teaching About Diversity

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Hate is learned and can be "unlearned"

No child is born a bigot. Hate is learned, and there is no doubt it can be unlearned. Leading experts on child development argue that the problem begins as early as preschool, where children have already learned stereotypes or acquired negative attitudes toward "others:" The process of countering those negatives with positives begins at an early age.

Louise Derman-Sparks, an educator and specialist on child development, points to three major issues that are important to keep in mind when talking to children about prejudice and discrimination.

  • Children are not colorblind. It is a myth that young children don't notice people's differences, especially skin color. Children are in fact acutely aware of our shadings and gradations, and they need matter-of-fact, simple, and truthful explanations of these differences. At an early age they may ask for explanations. It is important for parents to be equipped to respond.
  • Talking about differences does not increase prejudice in children. Being aware of differences is not the same as avoiding, ridiculing, or fearing specific differences. Moreover, awareness does not lead to negative attitudes. Children learn biases from important adults in their lives, from the media, from books, and from peers. Parents need to talk to their kids-to give them accurate information and to reinforce when their behaviors indicate a value of differences as opposed to a prejudice. Surprisingly, many parents have trouble opening up and broaching the subject. For these parents it's a good idea to practice the discussion with an adult before taking it up with children. Above all, parents should ensure their words of wisdom are in tune with their actions. Sending a contradictory message only reinforces prejudices and stereotypes.
  • It is not enough to talk about similarities among people. While we want our children to understand the things that bind us as human beings, it is equally important that they understand that shared characteristics, language, and customs are expressed in different ways. When we continuously tell our children, "See, they do that just like us;' we may be implying that similarities are the only things that make "those" people acceptable.

Next: Talking to children about diversity: Preschool years

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