How Do I Bring Diversity Awareness into our Homes?
“Why is my skin lighter than my friend’s” asked Ella’s four-year-old daughter, curiously. Ella knew why this was, but wasn’t sure how to explain it to her four year old. She tried to explain that we all have different amounts of pigmentation. She explained how some people, like her friend have more and others have less, but that no matter what amount of pigmentation we have it doesn’t make us any more or less of a person because that’s how God made us.
Does your children’s curiosity about diversity make you uncomfortable?
Do you want to talk to your children about difference, but aren’t sure how?
Diversity can be a touchy subject in many families. Bringing diversity awareness into your home, explaining why we are different, and how to appreciate diversity can be difficult for many parents. You expect your children to be curious about people’s differences, yet want them to respect and appreciate them at the same time.
Here are some tips to bring diversity awareness into your home:
- Plan ahead. Encourage your children to ask questions and make whatever comments they want, but to whisper it in your ear or wait until you’re alone. Allow them to be curious, but explain how their comments might hurt people’s feelings.
- Explain the value of the skill. Everyone benefits from getting along with others, regardless of our differences. By getting to know and appreciate each person’s uniqueness, we avoid prejudice, unfair stereotypes and the problems they provoke.
- Break the task into smaller steps. Children need to (a) understand the causes of our differences, (b) learn how to overlook differences or use them to enhance relationships, and (c) treat everyone with dignity and respect, even people who seem different.
- Let children watch. Be aware of how you treat someone who looks or acts differently. Explain to your children how you came to understand that person’s differences and why you responded to that person the way you did. Explain your thoughts. Sharing your thoughts with your children helps them respond similarly when they have similar thoughts.
- Let children try. Fine-tune children’s skills as situations arise. For example, if children see a child in a wheelchair and ask “Why,” offer a simple, factual, accepting explanation. Avoid using labels like “handicapped.”
- Let children do it their way. Encourage children to smile at other children, say “Hello” or befriend them, regardless of their differences.
- Offer choices. When differences pose difficulties (they want to play a computer game with a partially blind child or play on a playground with a physically challenged child), teach children to explore options for playing together. They can ask the other child’s parent for suggestions.
- Work together. Look for or create opportunities to learn and practice acceptance skills. Volunteer together at a mental or physical rehabilitation clinic, attend services of another religion, and visit playgrounds where there are children of diverse backgrounds.
- Make it child-friendly. Read or tell stories that illustrate diversity and ask thought-provoking questions. “How did (character’s name) feel when . . .? Why did (character’s name) do . . .?” Role-play situations, “What would you do if you saw someone . . .?”
- Offer encouragement at every step. When children make efforts to be respectful, accepting, and helpful to others (whether or not they are “different”), describe how good that made the other person feel. If they don’t talk down to a physically/mentally challenged person or treat them differently, point out how much that person probably appreciated their friendliness. When they control their stares and nonverbal reactions, notice their efforts and the positive effect. Encourage during the early years or stages of the learning process, to reinforce children’s efforts. Once these attitudes and behaviors are their natural way of perceiving and treating others, don’t point out differences or children’s reactions. That would only draw more attention to the differences.
Diversity is all around us, so teaching our children how to respond and appreciate diversity helps them be more respectful and courteous adults. The more normal we make diversity, the less different it is.
For more tips on bringing diversity awareness into your home and how to apply The Parent’s Toolshop®’s unique Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system to this challenge, take the 30-Days To Parenting Success Course. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation.
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop® and president of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has over 30 years’ experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.org.
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