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Where do children learn racial bias?



How it is addressed at home makes all the difference

children, racial bias, prejudice, change


Parents across the Hudson Valley are probably struggling with how to have the conversation about racial bias with their own kids.  While it may be a hard fact, children, according to Healthychildren.org, learn about racial differences and racial bias from an early age and learn from their first teachers—their parents—how to deal with and react to these differences.

Parents may better face today's challenges with an understanding of how racial bias works in children, as well as strategies to help them deal with and react to racial differences.

READ MORE: Talking to kids about race

It’s a lot like learning a new language. For example, a child raised in a bilingual household will be fluent in the language faster then a student who takes it in high school. How a child develops also makes a difference in how racial bias develops:

  • As early as 6 months, a baby's brain can notice race-based differences.
  • By ages 2 to 4, children can internalize racial bias.
  • By age 12, many children become set in their beliefs—giving parents a decade to mold the learning process, so that it decreases racial bias and improves cultural understanding.

There are three strategies that parents can use to help their children deal with racial bias:

  • Talk to your children and acknowledge that racial differences and bias exist.
  • Confront your own bias and model how you want your children to respond to others who may be different than them.
  • Encourage your children to challenge racial stereotypes and racial bias by being kind and compassionate when interacting with people of all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. 

Parents need to know that talking about race is not racist. It's OK—and important. From a young age, children may have questions about racial differences and parents must be prepared to answer them. But, it's important to keep your child's developmental readiness in mind.

  • For preschoolers: At this age, your child may begin to notice and point out differences in the people around you (i.e., at the grocery store, at the park, etc.). If your child asks about someone's skin tone, you might say, "Isn't it wonderful that we are all so different!" You can even hold your arm against theirs to show the differences in skin tone in your family.
  • For gradeschoolers: This is the age that is important to have open talks with your child about race, diversity, and racism. Discussing these topics will help your child see you as a trusted source of information on the topic, and he or she can come to you with any questions. Point out stereotypes and racial bias in media and books such as villains or "bad guys" in movies.
  • If your child makes comments or asks you questions about race based on school incidents for something they read or watched: Further the discussion with questions such as, "How do you feel about that?" and "Why do you think that?" This is also helpful if your child heard something insensitive or if your child experienced racial bias themselves. Before responding to his or her statement or question, figure out where it came from and what it means from his or her perspective. 


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