Give Your Child The Gift Of An Open Mind This Holiday Season

It was my experience as an educator that children are very capable of understanding complex social issues.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Children learn what they live. Prejudice has become an accepted norm by some and that message is conveyed to our children.

Juxtaposed with this prejudice are the words of Nelson Mandela, "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

This holiday, consider, as a far reaching gift, the need for children to understand the meaning of prejudice. You can start by explaining the distinction between preference and prejudice. A simple lesson is that preference is the difference between liking the taste of broccoli and not liking it, whereas prejudice is a pre-judgement without, using the broccoli metaphor, tasting. Children know instinctively that a dislike of broccoli does not mean they will dislike all green vegetables.

Remind them of the much loved muppet Kermit the Frog singing, "It's Not Easy Being Green," a touching metaphor that resonates with recipients of prejudice. Share the video together and ask them what they think when they listen to the lyrics. Why is it still relevant so many years later? Why was it written for a children's show? There are countless discussion starters.

We know two things through research. Prejudice is learned behaviour, and it can be unlearned.

We are living in a time where prejudice has been normalized. We have become somewhat desensitized to prejudice in the past year. The media provides prejudicial statements on any number of topics made by our world leaders almost every day. The speed is such that dissenting groups barely have a moment to counter the attacks before the next outrageous prejudicial statement comes fast on the heels of the previous one; a blur of prejudice and vitriol. Groups of people are demonized based on the actions of a few, their religion or the clothes they wear.

Children model their parent's thoughts and behaviours. So, if you have a noticeable prejudice, chances are your child will feel the same way.

There are many ways to help your child develop an open mind. You can look at the headlines together. Take time to look at those other things in the news besides the American political climate. Listen to the news with you child when time permits. Ask them their opinion about what they've heard. Encourage your child to notice what is being said and done in the world outside the loudest noise being made. Foster news analysis skills with them.

Take the same story from diverse news sites and just read the headlines. Can they see biased messages in any headlines? Even one story a day makes for a lively breakfast conversation.

Then, there are the everyday events in life that present themselves as teachable moments. Remind your child that the homeless person on the street once had a home, probably has family members worried for them and that life just took a detour. You can also tell them that income disparity means food banks are also accessed by the working poor. Put the humanity into the discussion by opening their eyes to a broader view of their world. Give them the gift of curiosity this holiday. There are any number of complicated social topics that can be discussed in this way.

It was my experience as an educator that children are very capable of understanding complex social issues. Their lens is less filtered than an adult's, and often their resolutions to problems are quite simplistic. Frequently they see the obvious answer to the problem. Just like Kermit they will wonder 'why' or'why not?'

The task rests with us to be aware of prejudice, and to make the children in our lives aware of it too.

The other barrier to breaking the cycle of prejudice is within our own circle of friends. Again, research suggests that having diversity in our friendships generally leads to more positive attitudes. So much of prejudice is about assumptions made based on biased views in part because of fear of the unknown. How often have we thought something must be bad just because we didn't know anything about it?

The research is not conclusive but there is enough evidence to support making an effort to get to know people without judgement of their race, colour or creed to decrease prejudice. By modeling that behaviour, your child will see acceptance and be more open minded to diversity in their own lives.

When adults and peers address prejudice, it decreases. The task rests with us to be aware of prejudice, and to make the children in our lives aware of it too.

Prejudice is a narrow, uninformed view. Give your child the gift of an open mind this holiday. Look at it as a gift under your tree for the future of our world.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost: