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How Parents Can Teach Kids About Diversity

Information for parents on talking to kids about diversity

Not since the turn of the century has the United States experienced as much diversity as in the last two decades.  While this diversity has given our country its vitality and cultural richness, it has also caused some serious problems including racism, prejudice, discrimination, and lack of respect for one another.  Today we have an increasing number of crimes motivated by hatred or bias.

What if parents never said a word to children about differences?  Children of all colors, religions, nationalities, and abilities wouldn't see the differences and would play together in harmony...right?

Probably not - after a certain age, young chidren do notice differences, especially if they have not been exposed to people who are unlike themselves.  They may find these differences interesting, or they may find them threatening.  And even if their parents do not discuss or react to these differences, children are bombarded by messages - some subtle, some not so subtle - from adults, peers, the media, and society in general.  By the time they reach elementary school, they are aware of differences, and some have already developed prejudices against people who are different. 

There are simple ways that parents can help their children understand differences in people and be tolerant of these differences.

  • Bring into your home toys, books, TV programs, and records that reflect diversity.  Provide images of nontraditional gender roles, diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, and a range of family lifestyles.
  • Show that you value diversity through your friendships and business relationships.  What you do is as important as what you say.
  • Make and enforce a firm rule that a person's ethnic background is never an acceptable reason for teasing or rejecting someone.
  • Provide opportunities for your children to interact with others who are racially or culturally different and with people who have disabilities.  Look for opportunities in the neighborhood, school, afterschool and weekend programs, places of worship, camps, concerts, and other community events.
  • Respectfully listen to and answer your child's questions about people's differences. If you ignore questions, change the subject, sidestep, or scold your child for asking, you may suggest that the subject is bad or inappropriate.
  • Teach you child ways to think objectively about bias and discrimination and to witness against these injustices. Set an example by your own actions.
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