We’ve all been there: you’re out in public with your young child and someone different — skin color, weight, disability, anything, really — and your child blurts out something innocent. Maybe it’s “Mom, did you see that guy in a chair with wheels?’ or “Dad, why is her skin a different color?”
Even though it’s said with complete innocence, it’s usually said in an above normal ‘toddler voice’ for all to hear, leaving you cringing and embarrassed. My ‘moment’ came when my daughter, then 3, met our babysitter for the first time. She asked her if she was going to have a baby. Our sitter said no, then my daughter asked ‘then why are you so fat?” It was an awkward moment. But it taught me I had some work to do about what it means to be different and what is and isn’t polite to say to people. From then on, I made it a point to talk to all three of my children about how we’re all different and the fact that we don’t all look and sound the same is a good thing.
Here are a few pointers for helping kids understand diversity:
- TV isn’t so bad (when it’s used to show people in other cultures). Unless you’re planning an extended vacation visiting several continents, TV is a great resource. This is one of the few times I turned to TV to help me parent, as opposed to the majority of the time I limited time in front of the screen. Sesame Street does a great job of showing how different we all are, as well as some videos. Take time to watch with your child and explain if they have any questions.
- Talk and teach. Start discussions with your child about how different things look. Don’t just limit the discussion to people. Talk about how different cars can be, houses and trees. Point out the differences and relate them back to how each thing is different but just as valuable and beautiful.
- Read and repeat. There are some great books that teach children diversity in people. People, written by Peter Spier, shows that all people have different cultures and backgrounds. There are some beautiful illustrations and even discussions about different foods. Try some new recipes or restaurants that show your child a different culture and use those experiences as ‘teachable moments’ to engage your child in discussions.
- Encourage questions. Remember that kids are naturally curious and inspire them to ask questions. Show them you’re curious, too. Explore, through books, shows or even travel, other cultures and open their minds to the beauty and diversity of our world.