According to child development experts, children begin to note racial/ethnic and gender differences by the time they are two years old. It is important that parents, teachers, pastors and other caring adults answer their questions and guide children to understand that God’s people come in many colors, speak many languages, and may experience life differently based on historic bias and misunderstanding.
Do not gloss over differences. Differences are not negatives; rather, it is the inability to respect cultural difference that feeds bias and discrimination. Telling kids that, “We’re all exactly the same,” is dishonest; they know better. They just may not know why people are sometimes treated differently. Tell children that God made people in different colors, with diverse hair textures and speaking different languages. Tell them, too, that they are beautiful and that other people – who may or may not look like them – are beautiful, too, because God says so.
Give them dolls and action figures portraying people of different races and colors – theirs and others. Read children’s books and stories about people from variety of cultural realities.
Parents can help prepare children for cross-cultural life by choosing child care centers, schools, social clubs and congregations that both include diverse families and that value the stories of people from other cultures, nationalities, and experiences. Make sure they see you, their parents, in relationship with diverse friends and observe you living in such a way that affirms all people are valuable.
Last January, a 6-year-old white child and his father were chatting with a black woman in a grocery store checkout line. The boy gave the woman detailed lesson about Martin Luther King Jr., whom his first-grade class had studied the week before. When the woman remarked on how smart the child was, he beamed, “My dad and my teacher told me Martin Luther King was the coolest!”
Christian educators and pastors should use Sunday school curriculum, images on bulletin covers, and website images representing a variety of people and life circumstances. In U.S. and other Western media, white people are often over-represented as leaders, models of beauty, heroes, and problem solvers, while people of color are typically under-represented, especially in non-stereotyped roles.
Replace Sunday school materials that use stereotypes of women and people of color. (i.e., the mother is the only parent who cooks and the son is told, “Boys don’t cry”; the only Latino and Native American people are portrayed as less intelligent than white people, or as domestic workers or “comic relief.”)
Listen and respond appropriately to children as they get older and observe or are directly affected by prejudice and discrimination against people because of race, ethnicity, nationality, language, gender, ability, or lifestyle. Explain to them that, while God created and loves all people, that some people do not like people who are different from them and that people have been treated really badly because of prejudice. Offer examples that they can understand. And reinforce your love and support and the love and support of the Church as they seek to grow into adults who value themselves and others.