Teaching your Children how to Deal with Prejudice

Talking to your children about prejudice can be a scary subject because people generally tend to fall into two categories. Those that want to sweep problems under the rug, and those who want to stand up and fight. Now, I think we can admit, as adults that neither end of the spectrum is healthy when discussing prejudice, especially with a child.

If we are a doormat and never sticking up for ourselves we bread distrust and show no self-respect. If we feel the need to fight for every inequality in life, than we are being unrealistic. Nothing is handed to anyone (even those we think do, often answer to sources we may not understand), and the sooner you teach your children to work hard for the respect and perks they get in life the better. Teaching children a healthy balance in vital.

There are many forms of prejudice, and your child will most likely at some point fall victim, and just as assuredly play the victimizer. Be careful not to judge, but instead use these experiences as building blocks for improving how they treat others.

When your child does something that you feel is prejudice, bring up a time that they were hurt by a friend’s generalization or name-calling. Since children know little outside the realm of their own ego, they will be able to understand how their victim felt if you can associate something that hits home for them. Encourage your child to apologize to whomever they offended.

Children are very perceptive, but to many parent’s horror lack any social skills when discussing differences. Just because your child asks questions about someone’s color, eye shape, nationality or religion, don’t shush them or apologize. Simply explain to your child that everybody is different in a calm manner.

Point out differences between him and his sister, or his best friend. By celebrating differences in people and discussing them openly and honestly, your child won’t feel like differences are something to be ashamed of or ignore.

A common error that many adults make with children is cutting them off, herding them from the room, or getting irritable or upset by their questions. Differences are differences and they are quite obvious. Pretending they are non-existent is a disservice to your child.

It’s when we cut the lines of communication or don’t discuss differences that children begin to form bigoted opinions because they simply don’t know any better. As a parent, can we blame them? If we are too afraid to confront differences because of fear or shame, won’t they be?

On the other hand, watching your children be victimized can break your heart. Instead of focusing on the person who wronged them and breading hate and mistrust in your own child, focus on the actions that hurt your child’s feelings. Let them be upset and hurt and talk about why it hurt them. You may want to ask your child how they wish the situation would have been handled or ask them how they would have handled things if they were the other child.

Calling the victimizer names or pointing out that child’s flaws (or adult for that matter) will only bread hatred and misunderstanding. A lyric that often comes to mind when I hear about prejudice is from Will Smith’s song “Just the Two Of Us.”

-“Throughout life people will make you mad. Disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do. Cause hate in your heart will consume you too.”

I think that lyric is a perfect illustration of how we should teach out children. Standing up for our rights is important, but taking the wrongs we encounter along the way and forming opinions of an entire race, gender or religion is unhealthy and unrealistic. Not only is it detrimental for society in general, but also for our own sanity, letting children dwell in hate is abusive. Help your child learn to let go, and realize that a person’s prejudice is that person’s own downfallnot theirs. When people judge me based on my appearance, what I wear, the money I have, I feel bad that their life is so petty.

When I was growing up, I associated the world prejudice with a person’s skin color. Children now associate prejudice with religion, affluence, color, and nationality. Because America is the “melting pot” children now are introduced to a wide range of culture that they necessarily wouldn’t have been introduced to before. Talk with your child openly and encourage them to be accepting and loving no matter who they meet or the bad attitudes they encounter along the way.