Children are not born to hate. Hatred and intolerance are learned by US, their parents, our family, and our homes. Read that again and let it sink in. I did, and well, I will be honest, I am not proud of some of the “work” that I have already done. Teaching our children about people’s differences can be extremely uncomfortable but strongly necessary. If our kids have any chance of living in this ever changing and diverse world, it is OUR duty as their parents to raise them to have a deep capacity of inclusion, exhibit kindness, empathy, and tolerance.

I recently read an article, and one particular line stood out the most:

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

James Baldwin  

Our movements, words, and actions are always being heard and watched by little (and eventually big) eyes and ears. How we react to every situation, whether it be verbally, physically, emotionally, and/or mentally, is hardwired back to our offspring. Remember the old saying, “actions speak louder than words.” No truer words have ever been spoken.  

Recognizing and understanding diversity begins well before children reach school age. In its simplest form, diversity means that there are lots of different kinds of things. Children experience diversity daily, beginning right in our family.  

The members of our family are all different; different eye color, different gender, different hair color, different height, different weight, and the list goes on. However, we all know that diversity just doesn’t have to do with our bodies. Diversity exists in language, religion, culture, beliefs, sexual orientation, physical limitations, food, housing, schools, and jobs. I am sure you can think of many more differences to add to that list. Inclusion follows right behind diversity because inclusion simply means to be included, to be part of something regardless of the differences that exist.  

Teaching diversity and inclusion is 100% on us

Below are 6 friendly reminders on how to help your child understand diversity and learn to appreciate the differences in our very diverse world.

Talk about it.

As uncomfortable as it may be, discussions about diversity and differences must happen. How do you respond when your child asks, “Why does that person walk funny?”, “Why does that person have such brown skin?” or “Look, mommy, that person has a red dot on their head!”.

You may want to crawl in a hole and just disappear from the situation, but that is not the answer. Treat each experience as a learning experience and talk about it.  

We have to learn to make the conversation about diversity as close to second nature as a conversation about safety.  

We have no problem talking about being safe crossing the road, being safe while riding the school bus, being safe on your bicycle by wearing your helmet, etc. We learn basic safety, we practice safety, and we teach our children to make decisions going forward that result in being safe.  

Discussions about diversity and inclusion should be no different. The worst thing to do is to ignore the question. The best answer, if you have no answer at all at the moment, is, “That’s a good question, and I have to think about it, and we can talk about it later.” No need to make the conversation about people’s differences as awkward as the sex talk!

Model tolerance and inclusivity.  

If you talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. Like I said earlier, our actions speak louder than words. This may require some practice on our part as parents. I know I could use some work in this area regarding my behavior and language as it relates to tolerance, acceptance of differences, and inclusivity of others.  

Regardless of how we may have been treated or if we were excluded, we must adjust our language and behavior for our children. In my opinion, conveying the message that all people, regardless of race, language, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or appearance, should be treated with respect and dignity is an essential part of building a solid foundation in our children.  

Children learn from concrete examples. Be the example you want to see from them and allow them to see that the differences that exist in our population make the world so much more interesting and exciting.  

Use language that promotes inclusivity and avoids labeling. Embrace the disabilities that others may have and those that your children notice instead of ignoring them. Place emphasis on the strengths of others rather than their differences.

Read about diversity and inclusion.

There are numerous books related to diversity and inclusion that can be used to spread the message of tolerance and respect. It can be as simple as reading books related to other cultures, languages, and customs. The availability of literature can be both written and in video form and right at your fingertips.  

A simple internet search titled “diversity videos for children” provides a plethora of short videos to watch with your child. If you play with the wording of your search, you will be able to find others easily. Visiting your local library and asking your librarian to help with finding books related to diversity, inclusion, and tolerance will provide to be beneficial as well.  

Expose your kids to diverse experiences and cultures.

Provide your child with experiences by stepping outside of your comfort zone. Speaking from experience, only a few miles from where I live is the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community. It is a community of Mohawk Native Americans. Every year this community hosts a powwow that is open to the public. I took my children to it last year, and they really enjoyed it. Without even realizing it, I exposed them to a different culture, a different language, and it was a positive experience.  

Perhaps there are different events in the area where you live that you would be able to attend with your children to provide them with diverse experiences and exposure to different customs/cultures.  

Fear and insecurities about different people come from inexperience and inaccurate information. Help your child to become tolerant of others by exposing them to videos, games, food, toys, and customs from various cultures.

Your child is not racist. Just help them work their filter.

It is said that children speak without a filter. Goodness is that ever so true! I have experienced it many times and have cringed and probably turned as red as a fire engine. The most important lesson I have learned is to address the language used and NOT ignore it. If we chose to ignore it, we are spreading the message that their comment was acceptable.  

Do not be afraid to apologize for something your child has said, either…been there, done that, tail between my legs. Address the action immediately because our children need to hear we are not accepting of the comment or question.  

Simply stating, “that is a disrespectful and unkind comment, I will not allow that language again” shows your child your dissatisfaction. Later on, in private, you can further ask questions such as, “Where did that comment come from?” or “Let’s talk about what you noticed.”  

Avoid diversity fatigue.

Basically, don’t overdo it and “kill” the importance of diversity. Whether a child is in school or at home, over-talking about something will cause them to tune us out. We tend to over parent in the 21st century because there are so many more variables that affect our children.  

Children’s accessibility to information goes far beyond the confines of a library or an encyclopedia; they can ask Alexa or Google anything, and YouTube has a video for that too. We have the tendency, I know I do, to become “helicopter parents,” overseeing everything related to our children. While in some circumstances, it is warranted, in others, we need to take a step back and let our actions do the talking. Remember, sometimes less is more.

When someone told me that being a parent will be the hardest and, at the same time, most rewarding job you will ever have in your life, they weren’t kidding. And this job doesn’t come with a handbook, because there isn’t one! Consider it a plane being flown while it is being built – and there are a few crashes along the way. But no worries, you’ve got this.