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Children imitating adult biases.

  • 1.  Children imitating adult biases.

    Posted 21 days ago
    I've been thinking a lot lately about the way  children pick up on and imitate the biased behaviors of adults.  This includes boys assuming that they know more about things than girls (or even adult women) do and white children assuming that they can occupy more space than children of color. I notice when I'm out with my nieces (who are Native and Latinx) that white children will step in front of them in line when we are waiting to do activities. I've also experienced young boys talking down to me as an adult woman.  What do you do about these behaviors when you see them? I know that anti bullying theory says we should aim for supportive intervention every time a child engages in bullying behavior.   What might supportive intervention look like when the behavior is subtle and based on adult biases?   

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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 2.  RE: Children imitating adult biases.

    Posted 20 days ago
    More importantly, when I was Director of an early childhood cooperative school, we heard children say racist things that they had heard from adults in their family. I had to write a column in our newsletter about how children learn from what we say and imitate that language with others. I asked them to think before they scream epithets or racist comments when they are angry at someone who is of another race or ethnic group. I think it helped. It stopped so I think parents began to think about the impact of their words on the beliefs and behaviors of their children.

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    Nora Krieger, PhD
    Associate Professor Emerita/Past Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/NJ Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park, NJ
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  • 3.  RE: Children imitating adult biases.

    Posted 20 days ago
    Hi Nora,
    It's so great that you brought this up with parents.  Our role as mentors and supporter of the parents of children in our care is so very important.
     One of the things I found when I began to delve into the research on how children acquire adult biases and stereotypes is that children pay much more attention to adults actions than their words.  So things like who we are friends with and who we show the most and least respect to have the most lasting effect on children.  Were you able to talk with parents about actions as well as words?  If not- do you think the parents in your program would have been open to that discussion as well?



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    [Meg] [Thomas]
    [Early childhood consultant
    Co-facilitator for Diversity and Equity Interest Forum
    [St Paul ] [MN]
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  • 4.  RE: Children imitating adult biases.

    Posted 19 days ago
    Such an important topic, & such a difficult discussion to extend into conversations with parents & families. I applaud your efforts to take this discussion beyond the classroom door.
    Sadly, young children pick up racial biases from many different sources. I am glad you introduced the topic as a matter of "imitation." It is so important for us to remember that children are "imitators" before being "actors"- what I mean is that children often say and do things without fully understanding the implications or the thoughts behind what they are saying. For example, when my son was around 3 years old, he would sometimes say things like, "I just don't want to be alive."  You can imagine, when he would say such things, I dropped everything to cuddle and talk with him- it was so scary, there was no better way for him to get my full attention.  It was especially difficult for me to hear because I was going through post partium  depression after the birth of my second child at the time.  Of course, he did not really comprehend what he was saying, and I was probably the source of his words- he probably overheard conversations I had with my husband when we thought the children were sleeping...
    The reason I bring this up is because, first, he did not really understand or mean what he said, and second, my strong reaction to what he said was actually making it worse! I had to learn how to stay calm, and quickly acknowledge what he said, and then move on to a different topic. Adult attention, both approval and displeasure can be a very strong motivator for children's speech & actions!
    Sadly, children begin to show biases and prejudices very early, and it can be deeply entrenched despite their home & school environment. For example, after being read a picture book featuring a woman firefighter, the majority of children actually recalled the story to be about a man firefighter. This was true even for children whose mothers worked non traditional jobs like fire fighter, policewoman, etc. They were learning biases from there cultural/societal world, and these biases actually distorted their remembered perception of new, contrary information! The study was conducted at least thirty years ago, so possibly today's children would not have the same biases about gender, but the study does remind us how tricky changing beliefs can be, even in the very young.
    I believe an important step in uncovering and changing biases is not rushing to quiet what children say- even when it is an adult trigger. Instead, asking questions, staying calm, and allowing a conversation that presents contrary information is more effective.
    Allowing children uncensored moments to discuss differences in skin tone, hair and eye color, hair texture, accents, home languages and practices, gives the children to explore how people are the same and different without driving biases deeper undercover. Of course, if children are using insensitive language or racist slurs, it must be addressed, but without adding shame or unnecessary anger that highlights the very words we are seeking to put to rest.  
    Because adults often have very emotional reactions, and may not understand how children say mean things without really meaning to, I think a private heads up to the parents of the children directly involved is the best course of action at the time. That way, the children are better protected from getting labels that may interfere with their peer relationships. Later, addressing the general topic with parents in the newsletter would be appropriate- just not in a way that may spread school gossip.
    Again, open, non judgmental projects that allow children to think & talk about their classroom, family, and societal diversity is a very important way to allow children to uncover and challenge both unconscious and conscious prejudices in their world.
    Again, ordering the environment fathering than the child may also be helpful, but sadly is not enough on it's own. Selecting books, toys, and artwork that depict the full rainbow of humanity & culture is so important. This goes beyond having one or two books that show diversity, and having one event or month that shares the diversity of each specific classroom and it's family backgrounds.
    Creating a classroom book that has pictures of your real families at home during special events and also "regular" days and meal times is a great way to make diversity an  accepted part of your school's culture.  I also strongly encourage finding or creating posters and books written in diverse languages, especially languages spoken in your classes homes. It is critical to have diverse written languages visible in the classroom throughout the year even in classes of pre reading children, & infancy. It carries a strong message of inclusion for dual language learners, both children & caregivers, that we often neglect in our excitement of posting English alphabets.
    Thanks for opening this dialogue. I look forward to more sharing on it.
    margro purple


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    Margro Purple
    Rockville MD
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