What to Tell Your Child About
Prejudice and Discrimination

Learning Prejudice
Media Influence & Self-Image
Responding to Children
What Can Parents Do About Prejudice?

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Responding to Children's Questions and Comments

Find out more about what your children think in order to know what misconceptions may need to be corrected. After you have determined what they think, respond with a simple, "I'm trying to understand why you said that, but I don't see it that way." Be direct. Be brief. Use language your children will understand. Questions that might be addressed include the following:


Blaming an individual or group when the fault actually lies elsewhere. Prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory acts can lead to scapegoating.

"How is a prejudice different from a dislike?"

Prejudice is having an opinion or idea about a member of a group without really knowing that individual. A dislike is based on information about and experiences with a specific individual.

"Why don't people like those people? Why do people call them names?"

One answer could be: "Some people make judgments about a whole group people without knowing very much about them. Sometimes people are afraid of those who seem different from them and, unfortunately, they express that with name-calling and negative treatment. When people grow up with these ideas, sometimes it's hard to get rid of them."

It is important for children to know that they can help to overcome racism, sexism and all forms of bigotry. Show them how the choices they make can help to create a fairer world: "When a lot of children like you grow up, differences will become less and less important, and people will respect each other even for their differences."

"Why do those people look (or act) so funny? Why can't he walk? Why do they believe such strange things?"

Children need to realize that all people are different. It is important to communicate to children that we often think others are different simply because they are unfamiliar to us. We don't think our own beliefs and appearances are strange or funny because they are what we're used to. Point out that we must appear different to others, too.

"I don't like (name of group) people."

Such a comment needs to be handled carefully. It is important that you address such comments without making your children become defensive. With young children, the tone of the discussion should be one of exploring their thinking. A discussion might go as follows:

"You sound as if you know all the people who are (name of group), and that you don't like any of them. You can only like or dislike people you know. If you don't know someone, you can't have a good reason for liking or not liking them. There are children you may not like to play with, but their skin color (religion, accent, appearance, size, etc.) should have nothing to do with it." Discuss with your children the character traits they look for in their friends, such as kindness, honesty, etc.

"Name-calling? I didn't mean anything!"

Often young children do not know the meaning of the words they use, but they do know that the words will get a reaction from the victim. Children need to learn that such language can hurt other people, and is as bad as throwing rocks. Children who yell a racist or other hurtful name in anger should be talked to right away. They must learn not to throw objects at or say hurtful words to other children. Children need to understand that they have made a mistake and have hurt someone. A discussion might include the following ideas:

"You were angry at Tom and you called him a hurtful name. You need to know that words can hurt. When people get hurt by words, they don't get cuts or bruises on the outside, but they are hurt on the inside. You may have been really upset at something Tom did; but instead of telling him what you didn't like, you called him a word that is used to hurt people. If you told Tom what you didn't like, it might have helped him to change his behavior. Name-calling is unfair. It hurts people, and it doesn't solve anything." Help children think about solutions. Try to elicit a few options from them, and then ask which ones they would like to try. "If you are angry with Tom, what can you do to let him know how you feel without calling him a name?"

In an effort to educate the namecaller, it is important not to ignore the child who has been called hurtful names. Be sure to give time and attention to children who have been victimized by name-calling; they need to be reassured that their race, religion, gender, accent, disability, sexual orientation or appearance do not make them deserving targets.

Next: What Can Parents Do About Prejudice?

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