Like so much else of human learning and development, attitudes about diversity often begin in the early years. Children naturally absorb the messages they receive from their parents, teachers, friends, and the media.
Making a conscious effort to help them learn to be empathetic toward those who are different from them pays big dividends as they grow up. It helps them be stronger, more mature individuals, and it creates a kinder, more respectful society overall. Teaching children about diversity and kindness can also prevent bullying.
So, what can we do to help our children learn to be unbiased and empathetic?
An important first step in helping children learn how to be unbiased and empathetic is to model it ourselves. Whether you’re a parent, teacher, friend, or relative, children look to us for their cues on how to interact with others. If they see you treating everyone kindly, they are learning a great deal.
Talk About It Openly
Nobody can ask questions like kids do. Since they’re still learning social skills and politeness, they often aren’t afraid to speak their mind. So it’s a perfect time to address stereotypes that may play out in class or at home. It’s also a perfect time to help them work through the questions they’re asking.
Of course, it’s important to do this kindly and on a level that they can understand. Kids often ask questions that can feel awkward for adults to address, but it’s important to not ignore them or blow them off. Take them seriously.
When children bring up questions about gender roles, skin color, disabilities, or other differences, ask questions that help them identify answers on their own. Children value what their peers say, though they don’t always provide reliable or objective input. Having adults validate their positive ideas and suggestions is huge for kids.
Identify How We’re the Same
A lesson that even adults often need to learn is that people are much more alike than they are different. Adults can acknowledge that differences do exist and add color to the world. But it’s also very important to help kids make connections to how they are similar to others. Start by talking to them about universal human experiences and needs: love, family, connection, child-rearing, mealtime, singing, art, and friendship.
As you help children learn to focus on similarities rather than differences, you can also talk with them about how they have felt in certain situations. And then help them to put themselves in another person’s shoes.
For example, if your child makes an unkind comment about a child with a disability, take the time to ask them how they’ve felt when they couldn’t learn something right away. Or if they’re unsure about a new student in class from a different country, help them think about times when they were new somewhere or stood out in another way.
Life is so much richer if you can find a way to bring many different people into your children’s lives. Cultivate friendships with people of other races, regions, and cultures. Take the time to learn about them while also sharing about your own life. And look for things to experience together. Sharing a meal is often a beautiful way to build a connection.
Be sure to notice when your kids are kind toward others who are different or who are in need of help. Let them know that you’re paying attention to their actions and that you’re proud of them.
Utilize Books and Videos
A wealth of wonderful children’s books are available that cover a huge range of diversity issues. They are written on a level that kids can understand. Likewise, TV shows and movies that deal with the subject are also available.
If your child is struggling with fitting in or being bullied, reaching out to a therapist is often a good step. Our clinicians specialize in working with kids. We’d love to talk with you about how we can help your child.
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