We are living in an increasingly diverse world and have much to learn from one another. Our children are exposed to and go to school with children who may have very different backgrounds from their own. This is a rich opportunity for all children to learn to understand, appreciate and value differences. Children come with an open mind and a willingness to connect with others. Parents are their primary model for how to respond to diversity. Are you wondering how to start? Below are some suggestions and resources:
- It begins with us. Children learn about differences by watching the adults in their lives. How do you talk about and interact with those who are different from you? Modeling how we want our children to be is the first step.
- Do not be difference blind. Children notice differences; they are naturally curious. Our goal is to help them understand and appreciate differences. Talk about the range of skin colors, explain why someone might be in a wheelchair or using sign language to communicate or wearing a headscarf. If your child is pre-verbal and are noticing a difference between themselves and another – comment on it, “She is using her hands to talk. The person she is talking to can’t hear like you can,” or, “She keeps her head covered because in her religion it is a sign of respect.”
- Listen and respond. Keep your child’s age and development in mind. Be open to responding to questions, listen to how they express themselves. If your children use stereotypes or judgmental language, tell them how it is hurtful. Provide a safe place for them to make mistakes and an opportunity/expectation to restate or fix the hurtful language.
- Get to know you neighbors and larger community. Human beings are wired to feel safer with people who are more similar to themselves. We can be fearful of not knowing how to act or what to say. When you are able to listen to the stories of people who are unlike you, you begin to connect to their value and humanness. It is harder to dislike or distrust someone you know. Challenge yourself to learn about your neighbors and your community. Get to know the parents of your children’s classmates.
- Books and media. Look for books, movies and TV shows that depict diverse characters with a range of plot lines: different cultures, ethnicities and abilities. Pay attention to the implicit messages and biases. Are the white characters always the winners? Are female characters always being rescued? Are people being portrayed in stereotypical ways or being mocked? If this happens in a movie or TV show, comment on it and discuss it with your children. Or you can be more playful. Swap out the gender of the hero of a story and turn him into a heroine. Write your own stories where the people in authority or heroes are people of color or religious minorities.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”