Diversity is about all of us and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together. Jacqueline Woodson, American children’s author, Newbery Honor winner, Young People’s Laureate, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature
How can parents help foster an understanding and respect for diversity for their children?
First, it is important to teach your children about respecting differences. You need to be a role model for your child and practice what you preach. It’s not enough to just tell them to be accepting and open-minded toward others. You need to demonstrate with your actions that you are accepting and open-minded about others’ perspectives, needs, and behaviors. Point out and discuss that there are all types of people in the world with different experiences, backgrounds, opinions, customs, viewpoints, genders, ages, physical and mental abilities, religions, preferences, and interests and that there is no one way to live and think. By modeling this behavior, your child is more apt to imitate your actions and increase their mental flexibility, problem-solving abilities, and also their sense of tolerance of others. Accepting others will become second nature for them.
What activities promote respect and acceptance of differences for children?
You can provide your child with activities that promote diversity and also nurture tolerance. These are any number of extracurricular clubs, organizations, and classes at school, after school, or in the summer and in your community like International Club, Asian Club, French Club, AFS, Comparative Cultures, Sign Language, etc. These opportunities undoubtedly will bring people from other backgrounds and abilities together. Additionally, look for programs that encourage older children to mentor or be buddies with younger students or special needs students within your school district, surrounding area, and at local children’s hospitals. Take time to create additional activities at home to explore different cultures. There are many online sources with terrific ideas to explore the global community.
- Host foreign exchange students or become an exchange student to expose your children to traditions, customs, cultures, and languages of another country or geographical region. Many lifelong friendships can develop through these experiences and afford an opportunity for your child and family to travel or study a particular language as well.
- Visit another country or an ethnic section of a city to try out restaurants and shops. Participate in a street festival and embrace a new adventure!
- Participate in additional cultural events like parades and celebrations that show new cultures in and around your community and help gain a wider scope of their history. Scan newspapers, community calendars, and online forums to look for cultural and multicultural events. Many of these functions may be open to families at a low cost or be free like a speaking presentation by a South American diplomat, an Islamic art exhibit, an interfaith picnic, Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, or Chinese New Year fireworks display.
- Discuss current issues with your children and what they believe certain historical figures would think and do about these issues if they were alive today. Talk about how they feel about the issues, too, and what they can do.
- Have open discussions about bullying as bullying is often targeted as those that are different. Any episodes of cultural or racial insensitivity must not be allowed. Reinforce that name-calling, physical harassment, and hurtful comments whether addressed verbally or online are never appropriate. Help your children practice what they will say to stop bullying: “Stop this; you know that this is not right” or “You need to stop; this is out of line.” It is important, too, to support your child as they stand up for a greater cause and against what others might think and feel.
More Teachable Moments
- Be observant of teachable moments in everyday living. For example, when socializing with others, point out the different types of people (yet the common interests) and encourage your children to do the same. Expanding your social circle also helps expand your level of acceptance and broadens your mind. It changes how you live, study, work, and play.
- Talk to your children about not being afraid to mispronounce someone’s name or being anxious to meet someone different. Introduce yourself and your family to students and families that have joined your school, church/synagogue, and community. If they are from a different country, help them acclimate to yours by showing them around town, dining with them, or introducing them to some of your culture (sports, movies, foods, the library, etc.).
- Show your children that you should not avoid talking about controversial topics just because you know that there may be differences of opinion. Engage in conversation but a positive dialogue of acceptance even if you disagree. Use “I” statements to personalize your feelings and thoughts. Practice these with your child. Teach them how to ask questions of others and show a genuine interest in their answers. Remind them to take the time to listen rather than think of the next thing they are going to say. This shows the individual communicating with you that despite maybe not necessarily agreeing, you have mutual respect.
- When watching the news with your children, discuss relevant stories that center on cultural issues that match their ability to understand. For example, if there is a story about the African-American community, voting rights of immigrants, or the Asian New Year festivities, engage in conversation to help highlight the diversity and its uniqueness and their acceptance.
It is important for you to raise children who are comfortable with many different types of people and how they live. This leads to acceptance of people’s cultures and a better world to live in. Specific activities and teachable moments can help your child accept others and to appreciate diversity. Your children will most likely respond well to this journey and everyone’s lives will become richer and more interesting as a result. It’s a large, wonderful world out there and by embracing diversity and acceptance, your child will maximize their life experiences with confidence and ease.