In light of the recent violence that has occurred both nationally and internationally, we feel it is necessary to start teaching children about diversity at an early age. Racism and discrimination are very real parts of our society. Their effects, like a malignant tumor, can spread and ruin a body that was created to function harmoniously with itself. Just like a doctor would remove a malignant tumor, we have to make a conscious effort to remove the cancer of racism and discrimination that has plagued our world. The removal process begins in our homes. As parents we have the power to shape the minds of our children. In a world that is steadily becoming a more global society, it is our great responsibility to instill in them ideals about love and inclusion.
Below are a few ways we can encourage children to understand, appreciate, and embrace diversity:
Be an example of love and acceptance for children. Each day we have opportunities to illustrate what it looks like to be kind to others. Start off simple by holding the door for someone, complimenting another person, or helping someone in need. We have opportunities to show our children what real friendship looks like by making friends with people who are different than we are. Modeling loving and inclusive behaviors for our children is key to breaking down the walls that separate us.
Refuse to be a part of the problem. Perpetuating stereotypes, telling hurtful jokes about others, and saying unkind things about people who are different than we are is unacceptable. Again, our children are listening to what we say and watching what we do. Under no circumstance should they hear us make discriminatory comments or see us behave in a way that excludes others who are different.
Encourage open-ended conversations. Don’t discourage children from talking about differences. Use the discussions as opportunities “to talk about diversity and model attitudes of openness and inclusiveness.”** For example, if your child stares at a person and points out a physical deformity he or she has, sit down with your child and acknowledge the difference. Teach your child that differences are what make us unique and beautiful. Remind your child that it is unkind to stare, point, and say potentially hurtful things about others. We should love all people, even if they are different than we are. Love doesn’t want to hurt someone else or make them feel bad about who they are. Love is kindness.
Step outside of your comfort zone. Exposure is paramount. Attend cultural events in your community. Talk positively with your children about the foods, customs, religions, and music of different cultures. Discuss current events in the media to explain how societies break down when people exclude or mistreat others because of ethnic, gender, and religious differences. Encourage your child to make friends with people of different backgrounds—and not just the type of friends they only play with on the playground at school, but the type they actually spend time with and invite to be a part of your lives.
Speak up. If you hear someone say unkind things about or mistreat people of different backgrounds, don’t be silent. Your silence speaks volumes and your children are watching. Don’t be afraid to denounce injustice. Address discrimination even if it means stirring things up in your own circle of friends.
Now, more than ever before, we have a responsibility to teach our children the importance of respecting people of different ethnic, social, religious, and economic backgrounds. In our global society, there is no place for racism or discrimination, but there is always room for love and inclusion.
**Bright Horizons – Teaching Preschoolers to Live in a Diverse World
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