How to Raise Kids who aren’t Prejudiced

We live in a country which is as diverse as it is vast. With 29 states, 7 union territories and 22 official languages, we are a population that is as diverse as it gets. This means that we have all sorts of people falling at all points in a spectrum – rich and poor, educated and illiterate, fair and dark, fat and thin, and so on. While many of these prejudices take a while to show up in kids, the “fair and dark” and “fat and thin” portions come up pretty soon in a fairness-obsessed, thin-is-in country. I was struck by an anecdote from a friend, whose 3 year old daughter described a “dark” child in her colony as “golden”. It was the most beautiful description I’ve heard – showing clarity of thought and zero prejudice. Here are some tips to raise your kids with such qualities –

1. Exposure – This is the key to your child learning that there are people different from him/her. Be it racial, gender, skin tone, body type or economic background, your child needs to understand that he coexists with all sorts of people. This exposure can come from home (family members or household help, etc), school, books or whilst traveling, etc when you get the opportunity to point out that there are different kinds of people with different cultures and languages. It’s also useful to point out that when people speak with accents, it only means they know an additional language.

2. Acceptance – Teach your child first that no matter how he is, he is precious. Acceptance of one’s own qualities is the first step towards acceptance of others’ as well. Play dates and mingling with other children will teach him the obvious differences between them. The key is to inculcate a habit of equal opportunity for all kids to teach fairness of attitude. Bringing other cultures in to your lives in the form of TV shows, books or even field trips and experiences can be rewarding in teaching diversity.

3. Modeling the right behavior – Kids emulate us. They look up to us and reflect exactly what we model for them. Hence, the way our kids will behave with those lesser privileged than us is entirely in our hands – be it funding the education of your maid’s child or buying a small toy for her, your child learns from you that you should show kindness to all people. Similarly, skin color is a tricky thing. Your word descriptors might end up being negative. Instead, offer an opportunity for your child to describe someone who’s light-skinned or dark-skinned and change it to something more acceptable, should the need arise. Like my friend’s daughter I’ve mentioned in the introduction paragraph, your child may end up surprising you.

4. Have an open conversation – At a young age, kids cannot understand the diversity and need to be told why something is a certain way. So if your child comes up and asks why he’s dark skinned or why some friend is a certain way, use this as a teaching moment. Use language and teaching tools age appropriately. While a genetics lesson needn’t be in order for a 4 year old, a 12 year old might find it fascinating. Encourage kids to ask questions. It’s the best way they learn.

5. Difference is not discrimination – Just because your 4 year old knows his friend is from a different Indian state or even different country, doesn’t mean he treats them any different. In fact the first step to encouraging tolerance in children is being able to differentiate.

Talk to your child openly and honestly. Sometimes answering questions might be hard but its an opportunity for both of you to grow. How do you teach your child not to discriminate? Do you leave it to background learning or actively work towards it? Comment away.