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When is a child too young to talk about bias?




Never. Bias begins in infancy and is a natural brain function involving sorting, categorizing, and making sense of the world.  Early childhood studies have shown that biases can emerge based on race, gender, and social categories (Baron & Banaji, 2006; Dunham et al., 2013).   


We can reroute some biases!  Children also exhibit neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) until age 12, underscoring the immense power of parents and educators to shape a child's understanding of diversity and inclusion from a young age (Knudsen, 2004; Johnson et al., 2011). (Follow me for an upcoming blog with tips on how to help reroute biases for children over 12.)

It is crucial to understand that having bias is not the same as being discriminatory or racist. Bias is a natural brain function involving sorting, categorizing, and making sense of the world. This realization can lead to a psychological phenomenon known as 'belief grief' (the emotional distress experienced when letting go of deeply held beliefs). However, it does not have to interrupt our ability to help children as we can simultaneously hold two conflicting thoughts (accepting our biases while supporting children).


Tips: 

  1. Using the power of language as an inclusivity tool, such as when helping young children with puzzles, we can communicate equal values for the same and different. Using a farm puzzle as an example, encourage the child to put the pieces in their matching slots and then regroup to find all of the pieces with animals, those with nothing in common, and again for the pieces with the same color but not the same shape with an equal celebration of all focuses on teaching about differences but also helping them understand and appreciate them.  You might encourage them to find and explain ways the pieces have similarities and differences as they grow.

  2. Providing toys, books, and media featuring various characters, experiences, and perspectives can foster an inclusive understanding of the world. 

  3. Disconnect the idea that differences are negative, highlighting the importance of understanding and accepting differences. 

  4. Avoid stereotypes about characteristics. For example, mobility needs can be recognized as a critical experience of someone in a wheelchair while underscoring that being in a wheelchair is not the totality of their experience. 

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