In a world of globalisation, we are living in an increasingly diverse society. Your child will interact with people of different races, cultures, and abilities. They will have friends from child care or school who come from different family structures.
Children notice these differences from a very young age but they haven’t been exposed to real-world prejudices and stereotypes yet to put a label on those differences. Teaching your child about diversity and inclusiveness from a young age will shape how they view the world and how they interact with others as they get older. Here’s when children start noticing differences: 1
2 to 3-year-olds:
Your child will start noticing differences in skin colour and appearance, including the names of those features. However, they don’t assign meanings to those names and labels.
4 to 6-year-olds:
Your child will learn to identify their own race or ethnicity. They might have a positive or negative label on that identity.
7-year-olds and above:
Your child’s understanding of their own identity will only deepen. They might start forming opinions about people of other race, abilities, etc. as well.
It is important to teach them to acknowledge these differences and that they are not wrong, just different. We all want to raise accepting, tolerant, and empathetic children. Learning about diversity and inclusion starts at home. Here are some ways you can encourage and teach your child:
Allow them to consume media that celebrates diversity and inclusion 2
The media shapes a lot of our understanding and perception of the world. Think about how in recent years, many people have been campaigning for more diversity in TV shows and movies because of the importance of representation. As children are exposed to more screen time now, the type of content they consume can affect how they view people of other races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, etc.. It is important, therefore, to ensure that they are exposed to a wide range of media that celebrates diversity and inclusion.
There are children’s books for various ages that teach inclusion. Here is a list of kid-friendly TV shows and movies that educate them about diversity. Many children are also consuming YouTube videos and TEDEducation is a good channel that has speakers of various backgrounds sharing their experiences.
Encourage positive discussions about differences2
It is important to have honest, age-appropriate talks with your child about the differences they recognise in others. It is counter-productive when adults pretend these differences don’t exist. When children grow up and are exposed to more of the world, they see how these differences exist in real life. This can have social implications on how they see themselves and how they perceive other people. By acknowledging these differences and having conversations about them at a young age, your child will grow up to be more understanding and compassionate. They will also learn how to appreciate these differences.
If your child points out how another child at their child care or school have a different skin colour, for example, you will want to acknowledge that and say, “Yes, people do have skin colours, they may look different to you, but that’s the beauty of the world we live in.” If you notice your child staring or asking questions about someone with disabilities, say they are in a wheelchair, you can say, “I see you looking at the little girl in the wheelchair, and you might be wondering why she needs one. Some people’s muscles work differently, and her wheelchair helps her to move around, just like your legs help you.” Keep your explanations positive, like how their aids (hearing aids, wheelchair, etc.) help them, instead of saying that they can’t hear or walk.3
Prepare them about what they will read on the Internet or hear from others2
If your child is older and they are in school or they have access to browse the Internet, they can come across incorrect facts, toxic comments, and cyberbullies. It can be hard for you to monitor everything they do on the Internet and impossible to control what their friends are saying to them, especially if they are older children. It is, therefore, important that you prepare your child for what they might come across online or in real life.
When dealing with Internet content, you might want to discuss how some people use platforms on the Internet to spread extreme views. You might also want to talk about how negative and incorrect stereotypes can grow online and spread hate, and what harm those stereotypes can do. This is a good time to teach them how to be critical when reading articles or stories online — train them to ask questions about whether content is written intentionally to be inflammatory, is it only written from one person’s perspective, etc.. Teach them to stand up against any negative stereotypes that their friends might bring up at school. Teach them to try to educate people about such issues and know when to pick their fights as some might not be willing to learn.
Be a role model4
Like all other important life-skills moments, ensure that you set a good example for your child to follow. As adults, we know how difficult it can be to unlearn many prejudices and stereotypes that we were taught as children. By setting a good example for your child, they can start learning from your actions and words from young. Seeing you respond positively to diversity in a supportive and empathetic way can teach your child to have a positive attitude and to respect people regardless of their differences. There might be times when you slip-up but don’t fret because you can use that as a teaching opportunity.
Growing up to become a respectful person
It is crucial that we teach our children to acknowledge differences and that being different doesn’t make anyone “lesser” than others. By teaching your child about diversity and inclusion, they will grow up to be a more compassionate, empathetic, and respectful person.
- Foundations Counselling, Teaching Your Kids About Diversity and Inclusion. (Link)
- Kloss, K. The Parent’s Guide to Teaching Kids About Cultural Diversity and Inclusion. (Link)
- Hutton, L. 6 Tips to Talk to Your Kids About Disabilities. (Link)
- Brookes Publishing. 8 Ways to Show Young Children that Diversity is A Strength. (Link)