As we sit, read, and talk to our children about Martin Luther King Jr last month and the message he has spread, we wonder, what can we do to show our children that diversity should be celebrated. A few years ago I had overheard two, four year-olds talking and playing, one little girl said to the other, “Your skin is dark like chocolate… do you taste like chocolate?” The other child responded, “I don’t know” as she stuck out her arm and licked it. I couldn’t help but giggle at the innocence that was displayed, as the little girls continued to play with each other.
Today of all days I remember that little encounter and how children are not born with discrimination in their blood, but love, play and curiosity. Working with young children for the past 11 years, I have encountered many interactions where children are curious of the differences of others. “Why doesn’t that little girl have any hair?”, “Why is he in a wheel chair?”, “His hair is different than mine.”
Sometimes talking about differences can be awkward some, sometimes, we may not even know what to say and sometimes it can be at the most precarious times!
Exposure to diversity is very important for our children and to help them grow into well rounded adults. By children meeting other people and other children that are different than them, it can help teach them to be more acceptable of other’s differences (stop future bullying) but they still need your guidance to help them make sense of diversity.
Tips to Help you Talk to your Children about Diversity
- Teach your children to celebrate differences and uniqueness by using positive language. Labels can cause us to lose sight of a person’s individuality, and their individuality, and focus on the label. When your child says something, turn it into a positive, “Her skin is darker than mine” you can respond with, “It is and isn’t it beautiful? It so lovely that we all have different skin tones, it’s what makes us special!” Children understand this, and it makes them feel special and celebrate other’s differences.
- Accept that your child will say things that may make you cringe or sound discriminatory, but they are just being curious and stating what they see. It can be hard not to overreact or get nervous, especially in public, but you need to address it. A psychologist at the Judge Baker Children’s Center at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of Talking to Children about Racism, Prejudice and Diversity, Susan Linn, states “The key is responding in a non-judgmental way. There are also a few key phrases that can help:
- “What made you say that?”
- “Well, let’s talk about that …”
- “What made you notice that?”
- Teach and use respectful language. This is important when talking about gender identity, disabilities, and ethnicity. Our children are always listening to us and watching our actions, so it is very important to be aware of what we say. A great example can be, instead of saying, “He’s autistic” is “ He has autism”. There are many resources available online and we have posted below to help to use proper terminology for describing a disability to a child. Children do also pick up terminology from school through classmates, so it is important to be aware of that and know how to address the situation calmly. Try to teach your child empathy in situations like this, “How would you like it if someone called you that? I know it would make me feel sad and it would hurt me”. Creating these connections and building empathy also helps give your child the tool to stop bullying as they get older and prevent them from becoming the bully
- Seek out diversity in books, movies, and media. There are many books that show different types of families, children with disabilities, races, and other types of families and differences. These books help celebrate differences between us; they are great ways for children to ask questions at home and can give you some extra time to look up resources if need be.
Let’s not be afraid to talk to our children about differences, and let’s celebrate them! By giving our children a basis in understanding one another and our differences we are creating a better world for them and can help in the prevention of bullying.
Lots of Love,
Written by Alex Zimmerman