6 Tips to Help Parents Teach Their Children About Diversity
By Alexandra Temblador
The modern family is a kaleidoscope of diversity, a kaleidoscope that directly reflects the diverse world we live in. Diversity in the human population can mean a lot of things such as race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, religion, cultural practices, disabilities, and much more. For children, learning about diversity can be overwhelming and they are looking for help in understanding what diversity is and how they should interact with it. This is where you, their parents, come in.
You might say, “My parents never talked to me about diversity and I grew up just fine.” That may be true, but children are growing up in a relatively different world than people did even twenty years ago. The world has grown smaller with technology and media and we are now, more than ever, in direct contact with other cultures, ethnicities, and religions. Even closer to home, the U.S. and some of its states have recently passed laws that allow LGBT persons equal rights such as marriage or serving in the military openly, an aspect of society that did not exist up until the last few years.
Educating our children about tolerance can affect our children at home and at school. Studies have found that “30% of children are involved in bullying whether as victims, perpetrators or both.” Teaching tolerance of other people to your child at a young age can help prevent bullying and reduce their risk or growing up prejudice and intolerant of others. Recent studies have even found that the most effective years for children to learn about diversity is between the ages of four and nine.
So for any parent who isn’t quite sure where to start when it comes to speaking to their child about tolerance, here are six tips on how to teach your child about accepting and loving diversity.
What do I know about diversity?
Diversity can be a difficult subject to talk about. Many questions arise with the thought of speaking to your child about diversity:
- What do I know about diversity?
- What if I say the wrong thing?
- How do I explain what it means to be gay?
- What’s the best way to explain sexuality?
- Can I relate to someone of a different race?
Talking about diversity is a scary prospect, especially when you might not understand all aspects of it yourself. However, your child depends on you to guide them through this aspect of life so think of this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Get advice from a professional like a child psychologist, do research online, or read a book that explains the different aspects of diversity that you may not understand. Don’t let your fear overrule your child’s need to learn about diversity in a healthy manner. You can do it!
Give age appropriate responses.
The sooner that you speak with your children about diversity, the sooner they understand it. With that in mind, it seems illogical to explain homosexuality to a four-year-old in the same way that you would explain it to a thirteen-year-old. Therefore, age appropriate responses are essential when explaining different types of diversity.
Welcoming Schools is a project of the Human Rights Campaign. They understand the need to teach children about gender and sexuality and created a variety of worksheets for parents and educators that will help them explain diversity to children of all ages. Helpful links are provided below on these topics and each link also provides downloadable PDFs that you can print out.
- How to explain what “gay” means
- Age appropriate definitions for children on gender and sexuality
- Definitions about gender and sexuality for parents and educators
The Baby Center provides great articles on how to speak to your children about other aspects of diversity:
Only say what needs to be said.
When talking to your children about diversity try to keep things simple. Many people can be swept up in talking about diversity and may find themselves lecturing their children about it. Research has shown that children will tune out parents who speak a lot. Similarly, science tells us that we can only keep about 30 seconds of conversation or one to two sentences of speech in our short-term memory at one time. So don’t worry about explaining everything at once. If you need to have the diversity talk in steps or even across a couple of days, weeks, or months, do so. You want your child to understand what you are explaining, not ignore you.
Let your children ask questions.
Children love to ask, “Why?” With your diversity discussion, let them! If your child is asking you questions then that means that they are listening and they want to understand what you are telling them. This also shows you what aspects of diversity that they do not fully understand which can help you come up with new ways to explain the aspect of diversity that they are having difficulty with.
Provide positive images or examples.
Thirty percent of the population are auditory learners, or people who collect information through hearing, while 65 percent of the population are visual learners and retain and understand information through visual examples. With that in mind, it would be helpful to provide your children positive visual images and examples of diversity.
Get creative on this one! Pick up a book from the library that features an interracial family, a family that is of a different race than yours, or a family with adoptive children. Encourage your children to watch television or films that embrace diversity. Find a museum near you that has exhibits on other cultures from around the world. Take your children to a Special Olympics volunteer event so that they can learn more about disabilities.
There is an endless amount of ways that you can provide positive images and examples of diversity to your children. The more your children come in contact with diversity, the more comfortable they will feel around it.
Be a good example.
Parents directly influence their children’s social skills. Children learn to interact with others through their family, so if your child witnesses you interacting positively with others that are different from you, whether it’s by race, class, religion, sexuality, sexual orientation, or disability, they are more likely to interact with those that are different from them in positive ways as well.
This is the easiest way to teach your children about diversity. Refrain from slurs or derogatory language that is used to undermine a group of people. Examples include: “That’s so gay,” “retard,” and any racial slur. If your children hear you say these things they might think it is okay to say such things as well.
Also, try to socially interact with a diverse group of people so that your child can take positive social cues from your behavior. The more diversity you bring into your life, the more learning opportunities your children have to become tolerant and accepting of others, thus making the future of our society a little brighter.
Photo Credit: Sharon Mattheson-McCutcheon
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