Pushing back against prejudice

For the last ten years, I have been writing children’s books as a form of bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy for children is a kind of creative arts therapy that involves the reading of stories to help children develop insight as well as understand and process their emotions. I have written children’s books about many topics that are typically challenging for adults to discuss with children (e.g., death, divorce, sexuality, diversity, and inclusion). I am particularly proud of the children’s books I have written about diversity and inclusion. These titles include, What Makes Us Unique? Our First Talk About Diversity[1] and On the Playground: Our First Talk about Prejudice.[2] 

I believe that it is important our children learn to fight “hate” in all its forms. Our educational systems need to position children to be peace-makers who strive to make the world a more peaceful and inclusive place for everyone. The idea is to not shy away or hide from the discussion, but rather to face it head-on.

Taken from these two titles above, here are some conversation starters for educators who want to tackle this topic head-on:

“When you look at the community around us, maybe at the kids on the playground, you may hear disrespectful and mean things being said to other people. This could be because they’re different in some way.”

“Seeing or hearing mean things might make you feel angry, sad, and confused. It’s okay to ask questions when you don’t understand why something bad, disrespectful, and mean has happened in the world around us.”

“When something mean happens, we sometimes call it ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment.’ And when it happens because someone is different in some way, we often describe it as ‘prejudice.’”

“Prejudice is also when we make up our minds about someone before getting to know them just because of the way they are different from us. Racism is when someone believes that another group of people is inferior because of their background or heritage.”

Once you’ve opened this important dialogue, you might choose to explain that in Canada, we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Harassment, prejudice, and racism are against the law. Here is the exact wording of Section 15 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms[3]:

(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program, or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

In these kinds of conversations, it is not uncommon for children to ask “Why?” Nobody is born with a mean attitude. Prejudice is something people learn. Many children may not understand why anyone would choose to say something unkind. Here is a good way to explain the “why” to children:

“People sometimes pass along mean or disrespectful ideas down from one generation to the next without really thinking about it. Sometimes people hurt others because they were once hurt like that themselves. And sometimes, people fear what they don’t know or what they don’t understand. When adults have these kinds of attitudes, their children often learn these attitudes too.”

It will be important to conclude any discussion along these lines with a clear statement on what values are important. This is your chance to help your child understand the difference between right and wrong. When children learn these important lessons at a young age, it helps them become little humans with a strong moral compass.

“Even though there are differences between us, we are all equally important. Everyone deserves love, respect, and equal opportunities, regardless of what we look like, how we sound, or how we live our lives. Learning to understand and appreciate what makes us different helps people to accept one another and come together.” 

I believe this is how we can make a difference and create peace among us. Changing attitudes starts with open and honest conversations with children. We can help make the world a better place one child at a time.


[1] Roberts, J. (2016). What makes us unique? Our first talk about diversity. Canada: Orca Book Publishers.

[2] Roberts, J. (2018). On the playground: Our first talk about prejudice. Canada: Orca Book Publishers.

[3] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part 1 of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), c 11.