Taking the time to teach your kids about diversity and inclusion is essential. They’ll naturally pick up on things as they age, but it’s one of those things that’s worth actively involving in your everyday life.
Kids start noticing diversity way younger than you might realize: one study found that 3-month-old babies exhibit a preference for “own-race faces”.
As parents, it’s largely up to you to help your children understand how to recognize and acknowledge diversity. This article will outline the steps you can take to make sure your kids are getting a well-rounded understanding of the world around us.
Here are our top tips for teaching kids about diversity…
What are diversity and inclusion?
Diversity is all about what makes us individual: wouldn’t our world be boring if we were all exactly the same?! Across the world (and even in your local community!) there’s a range of ages, ethnicity, languages, and genders.
While it’s imperative to teach kids about being racially-tolerant, be sure to speak with them about the whole spectrum of diversity. Sometimes there are things you can’t see, like sexuality or religion, that makes people “different” to us.
The important thing is to always accept and love everyone else, even if they do, see, and believe things differently — this is called inclusion. There are some people in our world who only like others who look and believe the same as them. This is a prejudice: thinking badly of someone before you even know them, just because of something like their religion or sexuality.
Why is it important for children to understand diversity?
We live in a society where, most of the time, bigotry and prejudice are not tolerated. If your children learn this from a young age, not only will they be respectful and mindful, but they’ll also be able to stand up for their friends or call out any anti-social behavior.
Teaching your kids about our similarities and differences will also help them understand their own identity in a social context. They’ll grow into global citizens who are empathetic and involved in the world around them.
Teaching kids about diversity: what you need to know
Read books about diversity
Books are an excellent way to introduce your children to cultures and people they mightn’t come across in their normal lives. Chat with your local librarian or your child’s teacher, they’ll likely have a long list of recommendations.
Popular ones to look out for are It’s Okay to be Different, Whoever You Are, Where Does God Live, and The Family Book. Remember to focus on more than just racial diversity: explore topics like disability, family configurations, culture, and religion.
Teach them that diversity is a trait
It’s important to emphasize that diversity is just a trait — not a defining feature of someone’s personality. When explaining differences between your children and their classmates, use simple words: “your friend is in a wheelchair because their legs don’t work properly” or “she has two dads because not all families have to have a mom and a dad”.
When explained simply, it shows that diversity is just another fact of life.
Don’t discourage questions
Sometimes kids are taught not to ask personal questions, as it might be seen as rude. But in fact, asking questions can lead to a child’s deeper level of understanding about people who are different from them.
They just have to do it in a polite way, like “why does Claire wear glasses?” or “why is her skin a different color to mine”?
Emphasize similarities rather than differences
Teach your children that even though someone might be different to them in some ways, it’s likely they’ve got much more in common. If, for example, a child in the neighborhood has Down Syndrome, point out all the similarities they share with your child. They might like the same TV shows, also have a pet fish, or love swimming.
Expose them to foods from around the world
Bring diversity into your kids’ diets! Each week you can choose a different culture or cuisine, and try out a new recipe or find a restaurant near you. Pair your meal with a discussion about your chosen country, its culture, traditions, and customs. You’re broadening your child’s mind and showing them there’s so much outside the world that they’re used to. We’ve got some great geography worksheets that can serve as a good jumping-off point.
Explore your family background
Make a family tree with your children, and explore where your family comes from. Giving them an understanding of diversity within their own home will help them form an appreciation of different cultures.
Go to the museum
Even small history museums have a lot of fascinating information about different cultures, both local and global. Take your time going through the exhibits and prompt your child to ask questions. See if they hold any children’s activities or classes to give them an even deeper insight.
Pre-teens and teens
Diversify your media
A lot of mainstream media is really lacking in diversity. Take the initiative to ensure that the books, movies, music, and TV shows that your kids are enjoying actually reflect real life. Find them age-appropriate books by BIPOC authors, or watch TV shows with disabled characters, for example.
It’s likely your child will learn all about slavery and the civil rights movement at school, but the typical curriculum just scratches the surface. You can do some educational work outside the classroom, with kid-friendly documentaries and activity worksheets.
Stereotypes can be really harmful. With your child, write down a list of stereotypes about themselves — maybe based on their race, age, gender, ability, or nationality. It can even be as simple as: “girls love princesses”, “tall kids are good at basketball”.
These sweeping generalizations about a whole group of people are often inaccurate and negative.
Talk about the world and current affairs
Diversity comes from being engaged with the world around you. TV news might be too grown-up for your pre-teen or teen, but you can still have nightly discussions around the dinner table about current affairs, in a kid-friendly way. KidNuz is a great daily news podcast they could listen to for a little more insight.
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