After age 9, racial attitudes tend to stay the same unless the child has a life-changing experience (Aboud, 1988). Before that, however, we have a good chance to help children develop positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity. We can also challenge the immature thinking that is typical of very young children. This is important because this type of thinking can lead to prejudice (York, 1991).
Children develop their identity and attitudes through experiences with their bodies, social environments, and their cognitive developmental stages (Derman-Sparks, 1989). As these three factors interact, young children progress through certain stages of racial and cultural awareness. The foundation of self-awareness is laid when children are infants and toddlers. At these stages, children learn "what is me" and "what is not me." Toddlers are sensitive to the feelings of the adults around them, and they begin to mimic adult behavior. By age two, children recognize and explore physical differences. They are also learning the names of colors, and they begin to apply this to skin color. Natural curiosity will lead to questions about differences.
Children in the preschool years have learned to classify, and they tend to sort based on color and size. They want to know how people got their color, hair texture, and eye shape. By age four, children begin to prefer one race. At this age, children's thinking is limited, distorted, and inconsistent. For these reasons, it is easy for them to believe stereotypes and form pre-prejudices. In the Anti-Bias Curriculum (1989), Louise Derman-Sparks states, "The goals are to facilitate children's awareness that their racial identity does not change, to help them understand that they are part of a large group with similar characteristics (not "different" from everyone else) and to foster their desire to be exactly who they are."
Diverse books - characters represent different cultures and family orientations
- Diversity in Art - allows child to paint/draw with all skin tones
- Diversity in Images - equal representation of different cultures and ethnicities in wall art etc
- Affirmations - empowering early learners to be mindful and affirm themselves throughout the day
- Teaching tolerance, empathy and understanding