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Prejudicial Behavior in Children

The beauty and harmony of the modern world is manifested in the diversity of its people. Each country is populated by the representatives of different cultures and races, which differ in skin color, traditions, beliefs, and a vision on the world. The latter one manifests itself in general and in every concrete person. The very idea that some category of people can dominate due to racial or other characteristics is one of the most abominable misconceptions of mankind. Nevertheless, prejudice and racism based on color have historically and deeply rooted in the sub consciousness of many generations of individuals. Ethnic and racial diversity in the United States makes an issue of the prejudice development topical. More significantly, it should be understood how to eradicate its manifestations at the stage of occurrence in children. The basics of human behavior and the right attitude towards surrounding people, regardless of their racial and social characteristics, are formed in the earliest years of life. For this reason, parents and the close relatives should explain the racial diversity to kids and teach them how to be tolerant. Children understand the differences in skin color and could display a prejudiced opinion like adults in case of observing it in society.

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The Development of Pre-Prejudicial Attitude in Children

The signs of racism appear among the children from the age of five. It indicates that they go to school with certain prejudices. These ones may grow stronger in the peer groups. The pedagogical practice evidences numerous cases when the children of five-years have refused to solve puzzles or just to sit together because of their belonging to different races. The other situation was related to the eight- and ten-years-old kids that have insulted representatives of other ethnic groups (Chin 37). Despite the fact that such behavior can be just copying of the conduction of adults (their facial expressions and gestures), it also indicates that a child already has experienced observing the prejudiced attitude. The latter one eventually takes its root in the one’s mind.

A pre-prejudiced attitude is the totality of negative feelings and sensations experienced by small children, which could transform into persistent bias in the future. They notice external differences at the age of six months (Mlynek). In the process of growing up, kids increasingly notice visual differences among persons. Children cannot perceive deep social processes and have the insufficient knowledge to explain why adults behave strenuously and defiantly facing with representatives of other races and ethnic groups. However, they subconsciously feel that something is happening around them.

Usually, a pre-preconceived attitude begins to form in the period from two to five years, when children begin to join in the process of socialization and increasingly come into contact with different individuals (Derman-Sparks). They begin to clearly identify racial, ethnic, and gender varieties as well as physical disabilities. It stimulates an active cognitive activity and the search for answers to various socially important questions. Initially, kids do not divide society into right (good) and wrong (bad) people because of perceiving the world positively. However, looking at the tension in a surrounding social environment, children experience discomfort, fear, and non-acceptance of the mentioned diversity. The pre-prejudicial attitude is actually bias in their version, which cannot be logically explained and understood by the kids themselves. However, it already leads them through a false acceptance of the world and its manifestations.

The fact that the three- and four-year-old kids demonstrate the same level and type of bias as adults is proved by the explorations of a psychologist Mahzarin Banaji and his colleagues at Harvard University (Burnett III). Studying a relationship between brain work, the reaction to racial non-perception, and the formation of prejudices, scientists have concluded as follows. Children have some tendency to racism starting from the age of three. While conducting the research with the white kids, Banaji and his team showed them the images of different people. As a result, the kids in the overwhelming majority defined the individuals with white skin as more attractive and friendly. At the same time, children with dark skin did not stress (by their behavior) the color differences and focused their attention on facial expressions and physical features, showing the lack of rudiments of pro-black or pro-white bias (Burnett III). Moreover, it should be noted that the conduction of kids cannot be identified as conscious. It means that such behavior can be called an initial form of prejudgment or pre-prejudgment. Its formation in them has become an object of long-term and numerous social studies that define the following key theories explaining the behavior of young individuals.

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Theories of Early Prejudgment Formation

In the framework of the Social Learning Theory, Gordon Allport was involved in the research of children’s bias development (Chin 38). The essence of this concept is that kids observe the interactions of other persons and gradually choose a preferable model of behavior. As a rule, they imitate authoritative persons, including parents and close relatives. Children under the age of ten tend to communicate not only with peers, but with adolescents as well. They note the stronger and more influential ones out of them and begin to copy and reproduce their actions and behaviors in an effort to be similar to the best of them. Thus, observing the examples of racial discrimination in their environment, young individuals start to perceive it as a normal and positive, as well as acceptable phenomenon. They form their own distorted attitude to people with different skin color not only from the experience of direct communication, but through television and other media too. Thus, there is an actual adaptation to the conditions of the surrounding social environment, which dictates the conditions of behavior.

The Intergroup Contact Theory has been presented by Allport as a branch of the social learning theory. It focuses on the significance of communication between intergroups formed by the representatives with the common characteristics (Chin 39). In the middle of the twentieth century, the researcher explained that within each intergroup (for example, formed on a racial feature) there was harmony being absent between different intergroups. For this reason, the representatives of various intercommunities should communicate more often in order to overcome natural barriers. The theory was revised in the 1990s, when, in the process of the US educational reforms, a significant number of children with different skin color began to study together (Chin 39). In practice, it was marked as a decrease in the ability to adapt and establish positive relationships, when kids were sitting together. Therefore, the classes were formed, accordingly to the learning performance criteria. Nevertheless, it has not refuted Allport’s theory completely, but given a rise to the following assumption. Mixing of intergroups (in specific communities) should be practiced in a preschool period.

The cognitive-developmental theory also emphasizes the existence of intergroups and outgroups. Developed by Jean Piaget, it explains that children from the very early age tend to be pre-prejudiced because they do not have the cognitive experience to perceive people as unique individuals (Chin 40). Based on their own observations, kids divide a society into groups and join one of them, thus, they are assuming that others are worse by their essence. By the age of seven, in the process of socialization, pre-prejudices (if they are not encouraged) weaken and could come to naught under the influence of a child’s natural development and the accumulation of life experiences.

Finally, the Evolutionary Theory considers bias in young individuals as an ineradicable element of genetic memory, accordingly to Fishbein (Chin 41). It is laid deeply in the sub consciousness. Moreover, it is passed on from generation to generation since the tribal communities period, when the members of tribes have priory perceived the persons of their own community. It was necessary for the survival, and echoes of such an approach were preserved in the course of evolution. Thus, the discussed theory, as well as the previous ones, allows understanding the nature of the prejudiced attitude formation and the development of discrimination among children to obtain the keys to the management of such behavior.

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Perception of Racial Bias by Children of Color and White Kids

It is impossible to deny the fact that children with various skin colors perceive the manifestations of racial discrimination in different ways. Historically, young persons of color are the victims of prejudices and stereotypes, while white ones could act as offenders, following an example of adult racists. The experiment of Banaji described above confirms the fact that white kids even unconsciously pay more attention to skin color and draw conclusions about the individuals, based on this feature.

In the Roots and Wings by Stacey York, the differences in the perception of manifestations of racism between the kids with different skin color are clearly defined. The researcher notes that the children of color suffer from bias. Therefore, it has a devastating effect on their self-identification (47). Realizing that they differ from the people with white skin being perceived with greater tolerance, the young individuals of color are constantly trying to revise their belonging to a certain category or race. Children are happy if they see that their skin is lighter than of their peers. Just like white kids, they choose dolls with white color, giving whiteness a special meaning. In this context, Akilah Dulin-Keita et al. have made the following substantial observation (663). At the age within four to six years, kids tend to develop with pro-white bias. Pro-black affinities appear only from seven to ten, when a young person acquires a cognitive experience and begins to regard himself or herself as a beautiful and unique personality. Nevertheless, the process of self-identification is psychologically painful. While growing up, the children of color experience numerous contradictory feelings and resentments.

The kids that have personally experienced the manifestations of racism are prone to separation from society and union with the similar peers. It happens both clearly and contextually as a necessary measure for psychological comfort. The reason is that, in such situations, the children of color do not know how to respond to hostility and neglect. They may feel unjustified shame. Such kids (and later adolescents) go from their self-denial to gradual acceptance of their characteristics. If, in such a period, a child of color does not meet tolerance from the community, he or she feels hatred and pre-prejudice against white people arising in them. To avoid such a result, it is necessary to teach the young persons of color to correctly perceive themselves and adequately react to possible conflicts. In addition, it is significant to explain that if a white kid shows disrespect, it does not mean that other children surely do the same.

On the other hand, it is equally important to understand how white young individuals perceive the color diversity to conduct effective educational methods. Contrary to possible misconceptions, white children experience the significant psychological difficulties in the process of communication and self-identification, although they are not as painful as for the kids of color. Observing people around with different skin, white young individuals show interest and ask many questions. Some adolescents avoid discussing skin color even for the reasons of tolerance that leads to invariably sad consequences (York 44). Thus, the theme of color and racial identity becomes forbidden. Therefore, the white children try to find an answer in another way. As a rule, it leads to a sense of superiority because society is full of cruelty, injustice, and stereotypes. Social learning leads to the fact that white kids better perceive peers with the same color, associating black or dark skin with something banned, dirty, and bad due to the lack knowledge. A child under the age of ten cannot know or adequately perceive the fact that the cause of dark skin is an increased amount of melanin in cells. Therefore, it is not able to overcome the kid’s erroneous ideas about the people of color without due attention, assistance, and guidance of parents and adults. In this regard, in the social and pedagogical practice, the whole series of recommendations for parents and teachers on educating of the young persons being free of prejudice from the earliest years have been developed.

Ways of Modifying Children’s Behavior

Preventing the formation of pre-prejudiced behavior in the youngest children is the most significant and effective way to eradicate racism. It is a primary task of parents. Its fulfillment is possible only if they show tolerance to social and racial differences. Children unerringly feel a true attitude of the closest relatives to the individuals of color or other nationalities. In addition to self-education, adults should consider the patience and attentiveness to a kid asking questions about the skin color and other differences. Moreover, it is the best option to stay away from the word difference and use the term diversity (Derman-Sparks).

From the first days of life, a toddler must be surrounded by a climate of love and goodwill, regardless of skin color. Parents should fill an environment with the elements of different cultures, as well as a variety of colors and toys that could be associated with the diversity of the world. Thus, they could lay a proper foundation for the kid’s correct acceptance of reality. Such approach greatly simplifies the search for a mutual understanding as a child grows up. The reason is that, at a subconscious level, a baby will not be inclined to perceive only a certain skin color (Mlynek).

Preschoolers choose the first friends and partners to play with. Parents and teachers should correctly guide their actions and ensure communication among the kids of different ethnic and racial groups. From the age of three, white young individuals begin to experience pre-prejudice, if adults do not pay much attention to the process of their upbringing. It is substantial in practice to show children that the color does not matter, and everybody is equally good. At the same time, parents and neighbors must explain to them that they are beautiful, and the color of their skin is the same one as of their parents. Thus, the formation of prejudiced attitudes is prevented in the future. When a child asks questions, it is necessary to answer simply and honestly, making it clear that the topic of racial identification is good and interesting (Anderson and Doug?). Children should understand that the world is beautiful in its diversity.

When kids start attending school, they have more questions; and then adults can tell about the people and races that live in the world, as well as offer to watch and analyze scientific films or read books about other countries and continents. Children need the attention and support of grownups that must continue the education process. Parents and teachers could suggest different games with disguises in clothes of other cultures during the holidays and masquerades in order for white children and the kids of color not to perceive a racial difference (Derman-Sparks). Friendship between the young individuals of various colors should be support without explicit approval, so that everything looks natural. Adults must engage in a continuous dialogue with kids and their friends to prevent manifestation of prejudice and racism among the children from the earliest years.


Pre-prejudice and bias are the most fertile ground for the formation of racism that is observed in kids from an early age. The cultural and racial diversity of the world, which they cannot be explained due to the lack of knowledge and cognitive experience, confuses them. From the earliest age and up to ten years, parents and teachers should exercise maximum attention and care to prevent the prejudiced behavior of young individuals. The kids of color are painfully experiencing the process of growing up, as they face some manifestations of racism in society. White young individuals choose the models of behavior depending on the nearest environment; and more often they become the offenders of the kids of color. It is possible to avoid it only through the constant dialogue with children and sincere participation in solving such a delicate matter.

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