Talking with Children about Diversity

February 28, 2017 | Culture & Community, Diversity & Inclusion

Children are so amazing at what they soak in from what they see around them. I think we often assume that their primary method of learning is words, so we are careful about avoiding those nasty Anglo-Saxon words we don’t want them to scream out loudly at school or pre-school. Hopefully we are just as careful with racial slurs or any derogatory words aimed at degrading people who are different from us.

At the same time, we can’t just ignore racism or bigotry in any sense.

Other people have different skin tones, different religions, different ethnicities, different politics or just plain different opinions. That doesn’t make us better or them appropriate targets for our distain or bias.

I think it is important to start the conversation about differences when children start experiencing them or just noticing them.

It could be a comment they make or your recognizing your young daughter taking particular notice of another little girl who is a different race or speaks a different language. You might just comment that you like seeing your daughter with her new friend, or telling her the name of the language she is hearing. It’s important for your children to know that talking with you about these new things is safe for them. As their experiences grow, the recognition of differences may not be so benign.

Your son may come home horrified at seeing a fight as one group of boys bullies your son and his friends because they are different.

You’ll want to find the words to let him know you share his feelings and that differences are not an excuse for any bad behavior. In fact you’ll probably want to discuss appropriate behavior given the situation.

Yes, actions do speak louder than words.

With any luck you are already monitoring your own behavior, being careful to treat a stranger who doesn’t look like you with the same respect as the stranger who does look like you.

Being welcoming to all and building relationships across differences may often feel foreign in a world where we are regularly shown people’s bad behavior toward others, including unspeakable violence. Your own actions will go a long way toward teaching your children about the world you would like them to grow up in and their expected behavior in it.

The older your children get — and the more they are away from you — they may witness or experience benign and not so benign behavior.

You want to make sure they can tell the difference — and that they know what behavior is acceptable. They are growing up in a very diverse world where their understanding of diversity and their ability to include different people will be very important to their success.