Recent events of racism in the news in both the USA and Canada have shocked and horrified people in both countries. We all want our kids to grow up to be kind, understanding and tolerant adults. How do we do this in a society where such prejudice exists in your country, your neighborhood, your child’s school, on the internet and in the homes of your friends? Although discrimination in the workplace, and in housing availability is illegal, in other areas it continues all around us.
Racism develops from fear and lack of understanding, in fact, we could define prejudice as “judgment before investigation”. Negative judgments about people are often made when there is no real knowledge of a culture or a skin color.
It’s a well known fact that people gravitate toward those who are like themselves, hence the communities of immigrants that have developed all over North America, where people feel comfortable in being with others who speak the same language and have the same cultural background. These communities are judged by those who don’t understand them. Differences in education and wealth are also factors because people envy others who have what they don’t have, often discriminating against them as a result.
How do we prevent our children from growing up to be prejudiced, even racist?
First, parents must address their own prejudices and discuss them with their partners. What are your attitudes to different races and religions? What are your fears? Conquer your own attitudes so you don’t pass them on to your kids.
Second, intentionally seek out and associate with as diverse a group of people as possible, getting to know people of different races and religions in your school, playground and neighborhood. Invite them to your home and get to know them.
Also, decide to influence your child’s attitudes. Take the initiative and talk openly about similarities and differences calmly and directly.
What is a good time to start shaping your children’s values? I recommend that you start when they are babies. If you have varied types of people in your home and in your life, questions will come up naturally, especially when you have toddlers. Give simple, direct, age-related answers as they ask questions about their world. Remain calm, with no reaction of shock or anger, even though the situation may be embarrassing for you. Show respect for their curiosity, and embrace such “teachable moments”.
You can expand your children’s interest with games or activities. Using brown and white eggs or green and red apples, you can demonstrate how they are different on the outside, but are the same on the inside. Choose books and toys that have characters of diverse backgrounds. Play a game of “How are we different?” and “How are we the same?”
As children mature, they develop social interest, and may be left out or leave others out as they choose “best” friends, for example. It’s crucial that parents provide guidance, talking openly and asking for reasons behind their child’s behavior. If your child has been targeted in some way, deal with it right away by going to the school or talking to the other parent, with the knowledge of your child. Talk calmly and honestly.
If you hear your child making a racist remark, try and find out what prompted it. Encourage him/her to talk about it without being judgmental or angry. With older children and teens, you can talk about race hatred in the world, historical events and how your society has developed. Help them to understand how prejudice and discrimination have developed over time and how hurtful it is. Be sure to talk about how people of all colors and backgrounds are working together to prevent bigotry and intolerance.
To sum up:
1.Examine your views (and those of your partner).
2.Be a good role model. Your children are watching and listening to you.
3.Surround your family with diverse types of people.
4.Develop open communication in your home. Listen, ask questions.
5.Actively teach your kids about diversity from when they are very small.
Purposefully guide your family toward tolerance and understanding and your kids will develop into thoughtful, compassionate adults.
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