"From the very beginning - the beginning of awareness, at 3 years of age, approximately," says Caryl Stern-La Rosa, director of education for the Anti-Defamation League, in an interview on the CBS News Early Show.
Stern-La Rosa, co-author of the Anti-Defamation League book "Hate Hurts: How Children Learn and Unlearn Prejudice," says "you don't want to wait until they've been victimized or they victimize someone else. That's not when we are at our best as parents."
"Researchers have shown that by 8 months, people start to discern differences and 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds are already acting on stereotypes," explains Stern-La Rosa.
She says it's the parents' job to talk to their children and help them interpret and understand the experiences they have, while learning that it's important to respect the rights and opportunities of all people.
Parents also need to teach their children how to react when they become the target of a racist remark or act.
Dr. James Comer, Yale University professor of Child Psychiatry and a co-author of the book "Raising Black Children," says parents of African-American children need to help them "learn how to protect themselves against the messages - negative messages - of society."
Interviewed on the CBS News Early Show, Comer says "you have to do that from the very beginning, to help them understand that when people attack them for one reason or another, that it has to do with the shortcomings of the other person, not you, that you're okay as a person."
What should a parent do, if a child makes a racist comment?
"You have to correct your child," says Comer, "and help him understand that that's unfair and that it's hurtful to the other child. (Then) you help them learn the appropriate way to respond to other children."
Both Stern-La Rosa and Comer agree that the example set by a parent's own actions is the most important way that a child learns attitudes about racism.
"We send messages to our children in everything we do," says Stern-La Rosa. "If our words are not consistent with our actions, we're not teaching children what we think we're teaching them."
"If you're racist or you make comments that are, they will do the same," stresses Comer, adding that parents also need to be vigilant about the impact of outside influences.
"You have to be very watchful," explains Comer. "They pick up things from other places and other people and they can - and will - internalize that as well."
© MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved