[HealthyChildren.org Excerpt: by Ashaunta Anderson, M.D. and Jacqueline Douge, M.D.]
Given the tragic and racially-charged current events, many parents are wrestling with their own feelings, the hopes they have for their children, and the difficulty of helping those children thrive in a world full of racial bias.
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.
How Do Children Learn Racial Bias?
Children 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.
The process of learning racial bias is a lot like learning a new language (e.g., a child raised bilingual vs. a child who starts learning Spanish in junior high). Biology determines a critical early learning period as well as a later window where learning is much harder.
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.
But like language immersion, children exposed to society will gain fluency in racial bias even if their parents do nothing.
Strategies to Help Children Deal with Racial Bias
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.