How to Explain Diversity to Your Kids
Words like diversity and inclusion have become regular parts of the conversation, from our workplaces to our schools. But talking to children about the many facets that make us unique – from our skin tone to our faith to our level of physical or mental ability – can sometimes seem like a hurdle for parents. Just how do you start conversations about diversity to kids?
Sometimes conversations with children about diversity happen naturally. They’re sparked by something on television, a book you are reading to them, or a question they might have. In other instances, it might be a topic parents bring up around the dinner table, or choose a specific time to introduce it. In all cases, how much information kids can absorb really depends on their own age and development.
Toddlers detect differences. While there is no magic age to begin talking about diversity, there’s no reason for parents to wait until children are in school. One study found babies as young as 6 months old noticed differences in race, staring significantly longer at pictures of people who had a different skin tone than their parents, according to the Public Broadcasting Service, which has been incorporating diverse characters into children’s programming for more than 50 years.
By the time children are 2 or 3 years old, they begin to communicate their understanding of racial and gender differences. They also begin to notice physical disabilities about this same time, according to an article by Penn State Extension.
Answer questions without embarrassment. Young kids are known for asking questions loudly and in very public places – that’s OK. Instead of being embarrassed and shushing them, use it as a teaching moment. If a preschooler wants to know why someone is using a wheelchair, leg braces or even a cane, explain that those devices help people get around. The same goes for when a small child asks about differences in skin color. Use an analogy appropriate for their age. For example, if it’s a very young child, use an animal comparison like cats or birds. There are robins, blue jays, cardinals and crows who live in their neighborhood. They all look a little different on the outside, but they are all birds and on the most important level, they are all the same.
Valuing diversity. Teaching children how to value diversity helps to foster open minds as they grow. Here are some easy tips for making diversity part of everyday life:
- Compliment differences in hairstyles or clothing on television shows or depicted in children’s books.
- Listen to different types of cultural music.
- Translation apps. Small children like hearing different voices or accents. Find a simple translation app that allows them to translate words or short phrases into other languages.
- Try different types of ethnic foods, letting older children pick their own menu items to sample.
- Bring children to community festivals that celebrate different cultures.
Older children. As children age, their pointed questions or observations will likely lead to more serious discussions. These could center specifically on racial or cultural questions, an issue raised in school, or even a disagreement between friends. Helping your child navigate their own answers to these questions and approach things from an inclusive frame of mind will help them grow into someone who appreciates their diverse world.
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