It’s more critical than ever for children to learn to tolerate and embrace diversity in today’s environment. So here are tips for parents in raising diverse children.
A devoted Muslim till the age of 9, Niko Crawford from New Market in Maryland was proud of his faith. Everything changed for him, though, when he entered the third grade. A rumor circulated among the students in Niko’s class that year that one of their own was planning to beat up one of his closest friends, Mohammed, for being a “terrorist” and an “Osama fan.” While Niko, a black American Muslim, stood up for his friend, he didn’t reveal his own family’s religion. However, the taunting persisted, and Niko eventually broke down in front of his mother in tears.
“My son was ashamed of his religion after watching how poorly his buddy was treated,” says Piper, the boy’s mother. That’s why he felt nervous.
The story of Niko’s ordeal serves as a sad reminder that intolerance, even among children, persists in our society today. With the rise of a more diverse population, we’d like to think we’re creating a new generation of accepting and unbiased citizens. Indeed, they’re living in an age where influential people of various ethnicities are available as role models on the silver screen and in the classroom, where lessons on tolerance and celebrating differences can be found in nearly every curriculum, even in preschool.
However, outdated mindsets persist. A psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, Kerrie Laguna, states, “Racism may be less accepted today than a generation ago, but it persists.” Even if parents don’t mention their biases outright, children quickly pick up on them.
In the same way, parents might pass on personal biases to their children; they can also help shape their children’s worldviews by modeling respect for others. Here are seven ways that experts claim you can teach your child to appreciate and accept diversity.
1. Acknowledge your differences.
Age 4 is when kids begin to notice that people seem physically different from themselves, and they may start asking inquiries like, “Why does she have darker skin?” You could also ask, “Why don’t I have straight hair like that?” Many parents become alarmed when their children ask these kinds of questions. However, youngsters are merely trying to learn, and their curiosity should not be stifled.
Replying with an explanation of how diverse human beings are is the most effective strategy. It’s possible to make a big deal out of the question and focus too much on the contrasts. You want to convey the idea that, despite their outward differences, people are fundamentally the same on the inside. Analogies that are easy for a child to understand are best. The ice cream metaphor is a favorite of Antona Smith’s 3-year-old son Kiden when it comes to race: “We talk about all the people God made, whether they be vanilla, chocolate, or butterscotch,” she says.
2. Be a good example for others.
While most of us are aware that disparaging a particular ethnic group with racial slurs or generalizations is wrong, the truth is that we all make mistakes from time to time. Studies have shown that even persons who don’t openly express their biases are nevertheless likely to have concealed biases. If you’re concerned about the subtle messages you’re delivering to your child, you should examine your behavior.
When someone makes a culturally insensitive joke, do you laugh or protest? When you’re driving through particular neighborhoods, do you lock the doors of your car? Do you try to be hilarious by mimicking the accents of various ethnic groups? Even if you don’t mean to disparage anybody, a youngster can quickly get the wrong impression from what you’re saying.
3. Such intolerance!
As a result of what they see on television, children develop stereotypes that stick with them for the rest of their lives. When it comes to animated characters, even those aimed at young children are depicted with foreign names and looks and attractive princesses who are white and blonde. Don’t be afraid to tell youngsters when you notice a harmful stereotype in the media.
Some kids will generalize and say, “All the Black kids in my school are good at basketball,” or “Only the Asian kids sign up for the math club.” This can happen to your child, too. You can’t assume that everyone in an ethnic group behaves the same way because some people do, so don’t do that. Try to think of examples that challenge the stereotypes. It’s never a good idea to generalize about someone based on their race or culture, especially if they’re positive ones.
4. Empathy is a good thing to cultivate.
Those who can put themselves in someone else’s shoes are less prone to bully those who are different from themselves. Involve your youngster in a discussion about what it might be like for him to be singled out for ridicule because of his physical appearance. People can be mean because of the shape of their eyes, the church they attend, or where their parents come from. If you keep the concepts and vocabulary simple, you may conduct these dialogues with kids as young as 3 or 4.
5. Expose your youngster to a variety of cultures.
As a result, children must become familiar with people of different nationalities from an early age to prepare them for the future better. Some families go out of their way to live in diverse neighborhoods. For us, moving to a town with a diverse population of races, faiths, and sexual orientations was an essential part of starting a family here. When he was just five years old, her kid assumed that all races were the same. His social circle is diverse in terms of ethnicity.
If you live in a racially homogeneous area, it may be more difficult to introduce your children to different cultures. Eat at various other ethnic eateries; visit a museum or cultural event, and learn about multiple cultures.
6. Maintain a strong sense of self.
The best method to help youngsters develop self-esteem is to treat them with fundamental respect and dignity. Little bigots tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Kids who feel undervalued tend to hunt for a target—someone they perceive to be “different”—to vent their feelings.
Self-esteem is especially crucial for children who may be singled out because they are members of a minority group. To her 7-year-old daughter, Piper Crawford just underlined the positive aspects of having curly hair when Samar inquired about why her hair wasn’t long and straight like her white peers’. Her hair stands up because she’s joyful, Crawford adds, “so I explained that to her. Now she thinks her hair is relaxed.
7. Be adamant about not accepting any form of discrimination.
When Deborah Majerovitz’s son, 11, used the words “homosexual” and “retarded” as insults in a Mad Libs book, he was punished at school. After the event, she sat him down for a tough conversation immediately. “I told him it was unacceptable to use language like that as an insult,” she recalls saying. Because we’re Jewish, I encouraged him to think about what it would be like if he heard someone disparagingly refer to Jews.
All people should be respected, even though we have our differences, and this should be taught to children at an early age. You’re teaching your child that it’s acceptable to feel superior to other groups if you don’t speak out against bigotry. To raise a tolerant child, you must teach your child to value every person for who they are.
Is there anything you can do if you suspect your child is being bullied or harassed at school?
- Encourage him to assert his rights. Advise your youngster that you understand how he feels, but urge him to maintain his composure and keep his anger under control. By saying, “I don’t appreciate you calling me that, and I want you to stop,” he might let the child know he is offended.
- Put things in perspective. Helping your child deal with a terrible experience is giving them a voice in the conversation. As natural as it is for you to be furious, you should strive not to go too irrational.
- Take a step forward. If the incident occurred at school, you should speak to your child’s teacher. Confront the culprit and let him know that his statements wounded her. (They might not have been his intention.) Consider contacting the child’s parents if the incident occurred in your neighborhood. Consider that the child may be repeating something he heard at home, so proceed with extreme caution.