Children today are growing up in an increasingly diverse world. They are eventually going to be exposed to people of different races, cultures and backgrounds as they continue to grow. Along the way, they are going to meet others whose physical appearance, beliefs and practices differ from that of their own. To avoid responding to these differences with intolerance or prejudice, as parents and caregivers, you must set the example of being respectful and tolerant individuals.
Setting by Example:
Little ones are constantly observing and mimicking the actions and responses of their parents and/or caregivers. As adults, it is important to set the example for children in terms of responding to difference. Leading by example means accepting and respecting people regardless of their color or creed. Nobody is perfect, which is why adults must recognize their diversity deficits when/if they slip up then correct them. Perpetuating negative stereotypes, especially in the presence of children, not only ruptures your own social fabric but it also dents your child’s developing mind. Model the behaviors and attitudes you want your child to develop. Pay close attention to the way you, your child and those around you respond in situations that either promote prejudice or hinder a child’s openness to diversity.
When Questions Arise:
Children are curious beings. They love to ask questions and sometimes those questions are asked without filters and in the middle of room full of people. When littles ones ask about differences, questions should not be met with shame or embarrassment, rather, be addressed honestly and respectfully. If they use hurtful or stereotypical language when asking their question, shape your response to the child’s age and personality and address them by asking them why they’re using the wording they are. Point out the hurtfulness in their question and explain why that type of language is unkind and divisive. Questions about difference should not be shut down, they should be embraced as opportunities for learning and growth.
A common response to questions about race and culture is, “I don’t see color” or “I’m blind to difference.” This is both culturally deaf and unrealistic. The point of diversity and inclusion is recognizing difference. The way in which we approach otherness is the true measurement of our tolerance. Children especially, are quicker to point out and verbalize differences. For example, at school they may see children with varying skin colors, who eat different foods, speak different languages or wear clothes different from what they’re used to wearing or seeing. Rather than telling little ones to be blind to these observations, help them appreciate, respect and learn about them. This avoids building and preserving ethnic and cultural barriers. Learning to acknowledge and respect otherness serves as opportunities to continue appreciating diversity and practicing inclusion.
Starting at Home:
Learning about diversity and promoting inclusion starts at home. A great way to begin the conversation is by reading books! Most months out of the year celebrate a heritage to highlight the accomplishments and adversities that a group of people have faced within our own country. February marks the beginning of Black History Month which is a prime opportunity to read about and recognize African-American’s achievements, afflictions and contributions to our history and society. Check out the links below for more tips about teaching diversity to your littles ones and some great books to check out dedicated to Black History Month.
*Remember to visit your local library to check out all these books and more!