Five Tips for Teaching Your Children about Diversity
As parents, it is our job to help our children build positive identities and a respect for differences. Diversity should be a part of a child’s everyday life.
We all want our children to grow up in a world free of bias and discrimination. We want them to feel loved, included and never to experience the pain of rejection and exclusion. Discrimination can hurt, leaving scars that can last a lifetime, affecting our children’s goals, ambitions, life choices and self-worth.
Children need role models who are open and accepting of differences. Parents play one of the most important roles in shaping their children’s behaviors regarding diversity, helping them to be more accepting of and kind towards those who are different.
It is normal for children to categorize or group things. Therefore, children tend to base their stereotyping on physical traits, such as race, gender, how someone dresses, what language they speak or age. Children will tend to group people together based on how they look.
Children tend to start noticing differences between people:
- At about 2 years, children begin to notice gender and racial differences,
- At about 2 ½ or so, children learn gender labels (boy/girl) and the name of colors, which they then begin to apply to skin color,
- At about 3 years old, children notice physical disabilities,
- At about 4 to 5 years old, children start to display gender appropriate behavior and become fearful of differences.
When parents or guardians talk about others who are different in a negative manner, their children learn to separate themselves from others with differences. To help your children value diversity, parents must model behaviors that are welcoming and kind toward others.
The following are important first steps to help your children value, understand and accept our diverse and wonderful world.
- Discuss Diversity: Talk openly with your children about what makes others different. Let your child know that it is okay to notice differences and to ask questions. Parents need to teach their children to treat everyone you meet with respect and empathy. When your child does notice differences, you should engage them in further conversation by asking questions like:
- Why does that person speak differently?
- How do you think that person would like to be treated?
- Is it okay to make fun of people who are different?
- Teach Empathy/Respect: Empathy and respect are important character traits because they teach our children to consider what others are thinking and feeling. Lead by example! Show your children what empathy and respect mean in the everyday world. Teach your children about specific disrespectful words, phrases or labels that could hurt other people’s feelings or make them feel excluded and unwelcome.
- Use Kind Words: Do not use remarks that categorize people. For instance, “Girls rule, boys drool.” While this may seem harmless, it instills the idea that girls are smarter than boys and could lead to boys not wanting to be around girls. Parents should be neutral or accepting of different groups. Nonverbal behaviors are also something to be aware of as parents. Sometimes we are not aware of our own body language while around others who are different. Show your children how to treat others with equality and kindness.
- Multicultural Experiences: Have your family become more involved in multicultural experiences. By participating in diverse events and activities, there will be fewer stereotypes for your children to develop. There are a myriad of cultural community events, museums, restaurants, ethnic dance and music performances and festivals in most major urban areas. Participation in new cultural experiences is another way to introduce your children to diverse groups.
- Redirect Prejudiced/Intolerant Behavior: If your child is acting or speaking in a judgmental way about diverse groups, immediately address the issue. Remind your child why it is important to treat everyone with equality, respect and kindness.
As your children become more comfortable with diverse groups, they also gain acceptance of themselves. The goal is to help your children no longer think of themselves as different from others. Encourage them to be more connected with their peers and accepting of people’s differences.