Teaching kids to accept and value the differences in the people in their community starts at home. Beginning at an early age, parents can lay the foundation for kids relating to others in the community from an inclusive perspective, rather than labeling those who may be different by race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
Valuing differences starts with perspective and understanding others
When your young child encounters someone who is different from her for the first time, this is your ‘teaching moment.’ Your child may ask somewhat-embarrassing questions, such as why a man with an accent ‘talks funny.’ Young kids often ask difficult questions very loudly and it can be tempting to quickly quiet them by saying ‘We will talk about it later.’ However, you do not want your child to view differences as something negative that is not to be discussed, so go ahead and have a brief discussion, even if it is a bit uncomfortable or you do not have all the answers.
It can be hard at first for kids to understand the many types of differences that make every person a unique member of the community, but by exploring and discussing these differences, you gradually widen your child’s perspective and encourage her to keep seeking information that will help her understand others. If you are concerned about your child asking a question in a way that is insensitive, part of your response to her questions could be some coaching on how to ask others about their differences in a respectful way.
Build empathy with those who are different
Take the next step in building empathy for those who are different by encouraging your child to invite those different from her into her circle of friends. If you have been successful in teaching your child to ask questions in a sensitive manner, your child should gain a good understanding of her friends’ unique differences. At the same time, your child will discover that even though her new friends may be different from her in some ways, they have plenty of similarities and shared interests. For example, if your child enjoys reading and her friend who is blind does also, your child will gain an understanding and respect for the way her friend is learning to read Braille books.
Hopefully, the understanding she is gaining from those different from her will allow her to spot comments and actions that are divisive and that she should not support. However, your child may hear comments at school or on social media she does not realize are biased against a certain group and repeat them. Give her the benefit of the doubt at first and explain why the comments are biased and might be hurtful. By doing so, you are giving her guidance on how to use empathy and compassion to filter out biased information in the future.
Demonstrate respect and empathy for others in your own life
We all know our kids are watching how we interact and relate to others around us. Set a good example by making sure your own speech and actions are not divisive or lack compassion for those who are different. Take a step to make your community more accepting of differences by befriending someone in your community who is different from you, such as the parents of your child’s friends who are from a different country. Your kids will take note and follow in your steps.