Babies are born into this world perfectly sweet and innocent. They have zero preconceived notions about people in general. And they love to stare at a variety of happy faces and carefully observe their expressions and mannerisms.
As children grow from being a baby to a toddler and even into school-aged children, they retain much of this sweetness and innocence while also learning more about their family’s core values, language, and culture. And they spend most of their time surrounded by people who are close family members and friends.
When they enter a classroom for the first time, it’s also the first time they may have the opportunity to interact with lots of other children—many of whom are from backgrounds very different from their own.
And it’s when they enter these multicultural classrooms that important interactions take place, affecting just how they’ll see the world and the people in it long into adulthood.
Studies show that even at a very young age, children can distinguish differences among people like hair color, height, weight, gender, and race.
They’re incredibly curious about the world around them, and any parent or teacher can tell you just how many questions young children ask in a day to satisfy this curiosity.
So it’s perfectly natural for young children to notice interesting things about their peers and unabashedly make comments or ask questions as soon as these thoughts enter their minds.
But the beauty of young children is that they accept people for who they are. They want to know more about everyone they encounter in school, and they learn a lot about each other through play.
That’s why you’ll come across those cute stories of school-aged children who try to trick their teacher by getting the same haircut. They may very well notice the differences in how they look, but they do so in a very innocent and fun way.
Over time though, as these young students age, innocent questions and comments can be replaced with prejudices against certain groups of their classmates. And the potential for this happening is a direct result of who they listen to and what they observe.
While parents and teachers often take the blame when this happens, a student’s experiences are shaped by everyone around them.
Parents, in particular, need to have open and honest discussions with their children on a regular basis and impress upon them both the right and wrong ways to treat other people regardless of their similarities or differences.
Teaching kids that any one group of people thinks or behaves in a certain way is what causes prejudices to form and last long into adulthood. Young children should be taught to accept differences, understand that no one is better or worse than anyone else. Being able to celebrate all the unique ways different cultures contribute to the classroom expands the acceptance that everyone is different and equal.