Birth to 2

Up to about 6 months, most babies are unaware of differences in theirprimary caretakers, as long as that care is loving, secure, andresponsive to their needs. Babies are "intolerant" of hunger anddiscomfort, but not very discriminating about which adult makes the hurtgo away. But by midyear, their visual and other sensory developmentenables them to distinguish Mom from others, at which point any personlooming over the crib--sometimes even Dad or Grandma--who is discoverednot to be Mom (or their primary caretaker) may be initially greetedwith squalls of protest. Around 12 months of age, this response may slipinto separation anxiety, a desire to not be left alone or with anunfamiliar person.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Don't leave your child abruptly with an unfamiliar caregiver. Allow some time for a transition.
  • Don't scold your baby for clinginess. It's a natural stage.
  • Let your baby spend time interacting with other adults while you're around.
  • What's the Goal?

    To help your child feel secure enough to move past the stages of separation and stranger anxiety.

    3 to 4

    By age 3 and 4, children begin to notice differences of all kinds. Justas they are learning the colors and shapes of objects, they're tunedinto how people look--tall, short, thin, fat, skin color, genderdifferences, and disabilities. These new perceptions stem from a growingsense of their own physical identity and their keen curiosity about theworld. They may comment loudly and embarrassingly on physicaldifferences--"That man is brown!"--but there is no malice or prejudiceintended. Preschoolers don't categorically exclude people (that's one of their charms), but they may ask a lot of questions. How a parent responds is key to preventing prejudice.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Buy diverse dolls, with different skin color and gender.
  • Keep explanations simple, concrete, and positive--"She has beautiful dark skin because her mommy and daddy have dark skin."
  • Explain that loud comments about someone's appearance can hurt that person's feelings, so it's best for them to ask quietly or wait until they get home.
  • What's the Goal?

    To satisfy preschoolers' natural curiosity about differences while beginning to teach politeness and discretion.

    5 to 7

    Children in K-2 grades often behave intolerantly because of their dualistic thinking: Kids are either good or bad, smart or dumb, best friends or worst enemies. Girls and boys who used to play together now often separate into gender-specific groups. A child may be oblivious to a friend's race or religion, for example, but may gravitate toward classmates who share their interest in sports or dolls.

    Children at this age follow the examples of the important adults intheir lives. A child who sees his father refusing to be treated by afemale doctor or hears racist remarks from a grandparent, may parrotthese prejudices in pretend play.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Don't allow "hate" words against other people. Treat "I hate." like any other bad word.
  • Be conscious of your own biases, and ask family members to curb prejudiced remarks.
  • Don't limit your child to gender-stereotyped games or toys. But don't get angry if kids seem to prefer such play-it's a temporary stage.
  • What's the Goal?

    To get children to notice "hate" words and choose less extreme language, which will help them avoid negative generalizations later on.

    8 to 10

    As children get older, they absorb a host of prejudicial messages.Television, movies, and popular music share a lot of the blame; butintolerance may also be passed on by relatives, friends, and even religious educators.

    At school, children find it easy to make fun of others for any number ofreasons: being overweight, being the "teacher's pet," or even bringingethnic food to school for lunch. Such kids are not hardened bigots but are trying to develop a group identity. Increased contact betweendifferent groups may not automatically solve the problem; but having to work together for a common goal has been shown to reduce competition.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Point out and correct instances of prejudice in the media.
  • Work with your child's teacher to develop group projects to help bring the class together.
  • At birthday party time, ask your child to be sensitive about not leaving out unpopular kids.
  • What's the Goal?

    To correct unfair judgments and encourage cooperation with a variety of children.

    11 to 13

    Kids this age desperately want to fit in, which often means they feel compelled to go along with the crowd. They may tease or ostracize someone because their friends are doing it.

    They're not as open as they used to be to their parents'advice, and they don't automatically assume that what their parents sayis right.