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How Can Parents Promote Positive Racial & Ethnic Attitudes in Children?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


Despite the passing of more than 300 years, the numerous contributions of African-Americans to society, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, and continued efforts to eliminate institutional

racism, many myths and stereotypes still form the basis for racism and prejudice against people of African descent.

Children tend to follow their parents’ instructions. Studies show that in some cases parents

directly instruct their children concerning racist and prejudiced attitudes. For example, one study showed that almost 50% of white families in the sample told their children not to play with African-American youngsters. Furthermore, racial prejudice can be communicated indirectly or directly, intentionally or unintentionally, by doing such things as associating black with “bad” or white with “good.” Studies show that such associations strengthen negative attitudes toward African-Americans.

Myths and stereotypes exist not only for African-Americans but also for many other American

ethnic and racial groups such as Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans,

Mexican-Americans and Puerto Rican-Americans. Myths and stereotypes cannot be ignored.

They form the very basis of racism and prejudice and affect how children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds relate to one another.

The family is the primary institution responsible for socializing children. Therefore, parents have the important duty of helping their offspring learn to relate to a variety of people. Here are several approaches parents can take that will help their children understand and appreciate racial and cultural diversity.

Admit Prejudice – By denying their own prejudice, parents will very likely communicate

negative racial attitudes, even if they do not intend to do so. To determine if they are ethnically

biased, parents can answer these questions: Do members of a particular ethnic group all look

alike to you? Would you be upset if your child attended a school where your ethnic group did not comprise the majority of the student body? Do you make sweeping generalizations about a

particular racial or ethnic group? A “yes” answer to any of these questions indicates prejudicial attitudes toward people who are different.

Observe Diversity – Parents can help their children understand and appreciate cultural diversity by promoting interaction with children from different cultures. If their children’s activities are limited to one cultural group, they might get them involved in mixed cultural groups.

Protest Discriminatory Actions – Parents should not allow their children to make comments or

engage in behaviors that are racist or prejudiced. If one of their children refers to Maria as a

“Wop,” the parents should immediately state that such language is unacceptable. They should

also explain that Maria is Italian-American and that “Wop” is a mean way of referring to

someone of Italian heritage.

Encourage Sensitivity – Children who can empathize with victims of racism and prejudice are

less likely to engage in bigotry. Research shows that children as young as five can identify

someone whose feelings have been hurt. Whether a child is five or fifteen, he or she is capable of connecting emotionally with a Chinese youngster who was called a “Chink.” In the case of a young child, compare the feelings of a victim of prejudice to a situation that made him or her sad.

Set an Example – Parents should avoid making comments that reinforce myths or stereotypes.

Rather, they should show their children, both through words and deeds, that all people are to be treated with respect and dignity.*

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