Voices in the Community

March 26, 2021

Breaking Down Stereotypes with Pre-K Aged Children

This month, we talked to Ms. Belle Bayron from Children’s Campus at Southpoint about addressing stereotypes with pre-K aged children. Children begin to learn about stereotypes during their earliest years, and even begin to recognize them by the time they enter pre-K. You may have some ideas of common stereotypes children start to notice, such as the belief that only boys can play with tools and playing dress up is for girls. However, family members like you can disrupt belief systems based on stereotypes as a trusted adult in your child’s life. In this interview, we ask Ms. Bayron about stereotypes children learn and how families can talk about them at home.

What are some examples of stereotypes children begin to learn at a young age?

Many common stereotypes center on different racial or ethnic identities or gender and can affect children’s development, academic performance, and even career choices as adults. Ms. Bayron listed some examples she has heard in her classroom, and further in the interview, we talk about ways she has talked to children about those stereotypes.

  • “Boys wear construction hats.”
  • “Dolls are for girls and cars are only for boys.”
  • “Why is your hair short? Girls should have long hair.”
How do teachers turn these conversations into teaching moments?

“When I hear my students talking and acting based on stereotypes, I always make it a point that I’ll step in and will join their conversation, [because] I want to hear their thoughts and ideas.”

Often times, children do not know that what they’re saying is a stereotype because these ideas are taught to them by other trusted adults, T.V. commercials, books, and more. Listening to the conversation to see what prompted them to say or act on it can help guide the conversation toward inclusivity.

“Many times I was asked why I am wearing a blue shirt with a collar, why do I have short hair, why am I using a big and thick backpack, why black sneakers and a lot more! […] Working in pre-K you must have an answer ready with you all the time, and when they [ask] I always take this opportunity [as an] open window to start talking to them.”

Ms. Bayron says the conversation with the child about why she is wearing a blue shirt if she is a girl might sound like this:

Teacher: “I am glad you asked me why I am wearing a blue shirt with a collar. Blue is one of my favorite colors and I have a few shirts that look like this.”

Student: “I like blue, too, but blue is for boys. My mommy says I can wear a blue shirt and my sister can wear pink.”

Teacher: “Your mommy says you can wear blue and your sister can wear pink. I respect your mommy’s opinion, but I think girls can wear blue just like you! All of these colors are beautiful for everyone and are for everyone to enjoy. We all can wear any color of shirt, dress, shoes or backpack. Green, yellow, orange, purple, white. It doesn’t matter what color shirt you wear, what matters is that you're happy."

What should families do if they believe their child is acting based on stereotypes in order to help their child see that stereotypes are unfair and hurtful?

Ms. Bayron suggests the family have a gentle conversation with their child and letting the words come from their hearts. She offers these tips:

  • Ask your child where the ideas came from to give them the opportunity to express themselves as you listen.
  • Point out the concerning behavior with a specific example.
  • Speak with compassion and love to create a teaching moment instead of a punishment.
  • Guide the conversation based on the child’s understanding and the context of the situation.

Another strategy is to read books that disprove the stereotype! Parents can do this regularly with books of all kinds, but they can also read a book specific to the stereotype they’re learning about together. Books have morals and lessons that make difficult topics easy to understand with relatable stories and drawings. You can find a list of books that combat stereotypes against racial and ethnic identities here and Mrs. Bayron's suggestions at the end of this article.

Not every situation will be the same for every child or every stereotype, but as parents, guardians, or caregivers, you have the power to offset any influence from T.V. shows, toys, commercials, and other social interactions. Children learn so much through observation, especially at a young age. So setting an example, being honest with your own biases toward others, actively working on reducing them, and showing yourself and your child patience will all promote healthy beliefs about others.

If a parent or guardian notices their child is losing interest in their favorite activities due to judgement from friends based on stereotypes, what should they do?

“I believe no one can come closer to the heart of the child [than] their parents. Communication and conversation is always the key.” When a parent notices their child losing interest in their favorite activities, or making comments such as, “My friend says boys don’t do that,” are often heartbreaking, but there are ways to heal those feelings and build a child’s confidence to overcome stereotyping!

Ms. Bayron encourages parents to reassure their child by telling them to do what makes them happy and not what others think they should be doing. She says, “Don’t stop yourself from doing something that you love and inspire you by listening to stereotypes of people. You cannot put your happiness in their hands. You are responsible for your own happiness not them.”

Talking to their child’s teacher is also an option, especially if the incidents are happening at school. Ask if the teacher has noticed the same behaviors, or even just let the teacher know your concerns to put them on his or her radar, as well. They might have advice for parents to try at home, and can have conversations with the child in the classroom about not letting judgement from others keep them from doing what makes them happy.

How can parents advocate against stereotypes at home?

In addition to what Ms. Bayron has already mentioned, she suggests allowing children to choose their interests freely, whether that means choosing the sport they want to play, activities they like to do, or toys they enjoy. “Give them the opportunity to decide on their own with guidance. Let them explore and learn the real world. Support your children and make them feel that you are always there.”

Again, children learn so much simply through observation. So one of the best ways to create an unbiased home learning environment is to be a living example of someone that avoids thinking or acting based on stereotypes.

Do you have any children’s book suggestions for learning about stereotypes?

I have few that I enjoyed reading before:

We hope this interview with Ms. Belle Bayron is a helpful resource in teaching your child about stereotypes at home. If you want to share your experience with us in the comments, we may include some in our future issues or online!