Answering countless questions throughout the day is something parents know all too well—especially if it's a young child in the “Why, why, why?” phase. Most of the time you can probably get away with a simple response; however, when it comes to sensitive topics such as race and diversity, the answer requires a bit more attention and thought.
So how do you respond to a challenging question like “Why does that person look like that?” First, remind yourself that a child is simply expressing natural curiosity. While you might find it easier to avoid or prohibit the question—particularly in public—it can be a great opportunity to teach your student about respecting and appreciating cultural differences.
Teaching children about diversity may seem like a daunting task at first, but there are simple things you can do to integrate it into their daily lives. Take a look at some of the ideas below to help your child embrace different cultures and backgrounds!
1. Model the behavior you want your child to have.
Parents are often kids' favorite and best role models. Since your child mostly likely looks to you for guidance, make a conscious effort to model compassionate, accepting, and unbiased behavior. For instance, show empathy when watching the news together and surround yourself with other kindhearted individuals.
If possible, bring your children to work or to family-friendly social events where they can see you interacting with many different people. Keep in mind that kids tend to pay more attention to what you do rather than to what you say.
2. Attend cultural events.
Go on a cultural adventure! Many communities offer local and inexpensive events to celebrate diversity, so make sure to regularly check the event calendar for your area. Not only will your child learn something about a different culture, but also he or she could leave with new friendships and fun memories.
3. Explore diverse entertainment.
Your student can learn a lot about diversity through movies, TV shows, and books. Try to choose things that feature characters from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Encourage questions afterward and have an open discussion about the importance of inclusion and acceptance.
4. Do cultural research together.
Does your child have questions about your—or a friend's—background? Consider doing some research together, either online or at the library. You can use this as a way to handle those embarrassing questions children tend to ask in public at top volume. Saying “I don't know, but let's look it up when we get home” shows that you acknowledge the question, yet enables you to answer later, in a private setting. Through research, kids gain insight into diversity while learning to appreciate cultural, racial, and religious differences. You might even discover something new, too!
5. Try different kinds of food.
The best part about exploring different cultures is the food! Make it a family night and go to an ethnic restaurant, or make a foreign-food recipe. Your student might be hesitant about trying a new dish, but it could end up becoming his or her new favorite meal.
6. Encourage your child to learn a new language.
Learning a new language is a fun way to develop a deeper understanding of different cultures and nationalities—and it's a skill that can be useful for the future workforce. You may not realize it, but language is a key factor in how we view and identify with the world around us!
7. Celebrate your heritage.
Becoming more familiar with native roots can be an enriching and enjoyable experience. Help your child to celebrate your family's heritage by taking a trip, participating in cultural or religious traditions, or exploring the family tree. He or she will be pleased to reach a stronger sense of identity in the process!
While raising kids to be open-minded about diversity is a big responsibility, you can achieve success by modeling inclusive behavior and actively seeking out cultural awareness opportunities.
How have you helped your child to understand and celebrate cultural differences? Share your tips in the comments!