Teaching Diversity to Kids
We as parents set the foundation for our kids. It is a privilege and sometimes a frightful burden. We teach them what’s normal and ethical according to our own manners and beliefs, as well as what expectations they should have regarding how others look, act, and love.
Our kids watch our every move because they are trying to learn about the world through our eyes and by observing the model of our experience.
Teaching your child about diversity and inclusion can feel like a losing battle. We are surrounded by a society that is just beginning to realize that different doesn’t necessarily mean unequal, and there are many people that still wholeheartedly disagree with this.
If there’s one thing that current events teach us time and again, it is that progressive people face disparagement and even punishment from those who cling to old beliefs. True equality and inclusion are still to come, but we all have a chance to make a difference.
As a parent, you have a chance to give your child something that many of us never grew up with–a core belief of tolerance and diversity.
Most of us had to learn about tolerance as teenagers or young adults. It’s incredible how far we have come in the efforts for accepting culture and diversity, but we still have a long way to go.
I wanted to give you five actionable steps you can take to help foster inclusion and diversity in your toddler.
More than that, I think you’ll find that you will learn as much as you teach in this area; you never know what you don’t know until you learn that you don’t know it. We are creatures of equilibrium, and our minds are built to ignore what we don’t understand or aren’t prepared to believe.
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5 Steps To Teach Your Child About Diversity
Watch The Way You Talk About Relationships
I think this is one of those things we tend to overlook as parents because we don’t realize it’s a problem. We were taught heteronormativity (that heterosexuality is normal) at a young age, and we are teaching our kids the same. It doesn’t feel like a problem, because it’s normalized in our society.
If you are a married heterosexual, this is what your child is going to interpret as the norm. This means you need to work even harder to help your child understand that other life choices or sexual combinations aren’t abnormal couplings; They’re just different.
There was a study performed on how mothers affect their children’s beliefs about relationships. The conclusion from this study was that mothers reinforce heteronormativity in their children by talking to them about love and marriage between heterosexual partners.
That would be you, talking to your child about how you and dad love each other, and telling your daughter that she will find her prince or your son will find his queen. Another interesting find in this study was the fact that many mothers tend to assume their children are heterosexual.
These women talked about their 3-6-year-olds having crushes on members of the opposite sex. The only problem is that 3-6-year-olds are proven asexual at this age, and are not biologically capable of a romantic crush.
We need to make it a point to include other kinds of relationships in our descriptions of love and care. Talk about two mommies or daddies whose relationship you admire.
Take the time to offer alternative combinations when your little one is busy at imaginative play around the toy kitchen set or the tea party table.
Remember, your child is soaking up every word you say and interpreting its meaning. If you don’t talk about the other kinds of relationships, you are not teaching your child that different is okay.
Don’t Limit Your Child to Gender-Specific Toys
Dolls are not for girls; cars are not for boys.
Gender policing is unavoidable in society, as your child’s peers will be the most prominent enforcers for most of their childhood and adolescence. The problem with gender policing is that it teaches our kids that they are not equal. Boys are looked down upon for playing with dolls, and girls are encouraged to stick to kitchen sets and baby-dolls.
On a larger scale, society treats girls differently. Although we have come a long way, a gender pay gap still exists in many areas. Men are expected to hold positions such as managers or scientists, and women are supposed to be waitresses and teachers.
We are severely limiting our children if we bring them up to think this way, as studies prove that women and men have the capability for equal competence in any position.
I hate going to the store and seeing babies and barbies in the “girls” section, with the boy’s section scattered with various creative science experiments and elaborate lego sets. Every time we go to Mcdonalds we have to choose between a girl or a boy toy for our Happy Meal.
In a world that claims that men and women are equal, it seems strange that we still have so many examples of gendered expectations for our children.
The best that we can do as parents is to encourage pretend play and creative expression; don’t limit your child to toys and activities society says they should play with based on their gender.
Talk to your child about why it is all right for them to play with any toy they want, and arm them with the language necessary to dispute gender policing.
Buy Multi-Racial Dolls
My oldest daughter loves baby dolls. She has six or seven of them, but her favorite are her pink and her black baby. My daughter is just learning her colors, and she is very aware of the difference in skin tone with her dolls.
This isn’t a problem. We can’t pretend that people of color are no different than white people–because this simply isn’t true. That would be like saying a woman with long black hair looks the same as a woman with a white pixie cut. Neither of these things is better or worse–they are just different.
You need to teach your child that different is okay; not that it doesn’t exist.
I have consciously made sure that my kids receive all the exposure they can to different races in a white majority county. In my town, it can be challenging to find a doll that isn’t white. We ended up buying a couple of my oldest daughter’s dolls online.
I highly encourage you to buy your child some dolls or action-figures that are racially diverse–especially if they don’t get a lot of exposure to people of varying ethnic descent. You have the ability to culture awareness and acceptance of other races, and it’s really easy!
Remember, you aren’t born racist, you are taught.
Culturally Diverse Activities
Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, it is likely that you have a cultural event that happens near you. You may not be aware that these events exist close to your home, but that is probably because you weren’t looking for them.
We took our oldest daughter to a cultural diversity festival a couple of years ago. This was my very favorite festival I have attended, and it was the one I learned the most from.
There were people representing cultures from all over the world sharing their music, food, art, and cultural practices. It felt so energizing to be in the middle of a richly diverse environment. I highly recommend attending a festival like this if there is one near you.
If not, you can look at other opportunities. As a young child, I remember attending a few Buddhist temple celebrations. Although there are different forms of Buddhism, most are pretty welcoming to the general public when they are holding a celebration.
If you are interested, here is a site that lists most of the holidays celebrated by different cultures around the world. I recommend using this list as your starting point, and Googling events near you.
Children’s Books About Diversity
Books are some of the best outlets for learning about the world. Curating books about diversity is one of the simplest ways that you can expose your child to different cultures and types of people. Here are a few different books you can purchase that open the door to an understanding of diversity.
The Big Umbrella-I love this book for our toddler. It’s a story about a giant umbrella who will shield anyone who needs it from the rain. Although the story is simple, it boasts an essential message about inclusion and diversity. The illustrations are beautiful, and it’s an easy read for you and your toddler.
Donovan’s Big Day–This book is about a little boy whose moms are getting married. He is the ring-bearer and excited for the big day. It helps normalize same-sex relationships for kids.
Happy in Our Skin-This is a little story that celebrates babies of all skin colors. The wordage is charming, and it also exhibits families of mixed races. This book may be more appropriate for younger toddlers.
I’m Like You, You’re Like Me: A Book About Understanding and Appreciating Each Other-In this book, your child can learn about diversity in words they understand such as skin color, hair type, as well as different sizes of families. This book is an excellent introduction to inclusion and acceptance.
Pink Is for Boys-This book opens up the door to help children understand that they are not restricted to gender norms. It’s a cute story that helps kids learn their colors while having fun with cars and dolls.
The Boy & the Bindi-This is a story about a little boy who’s enchanted with his mother’s bindi, the small red dot worn on the forehead of many Hindu women. He wants to wear one, and so his mother explains the significance behind it and lets him try it. I think this book is excellent because it’s a more in-depth look at a culture that is not well understood by many people. It was a fun read.
From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea-This book is about a little boy who can change into anything. He doesn’t know if he wants to be a star, a fish, a boy, or a girl. This book opens the conversation about gender fluidity, as well as general acceptance of everyone.
This Day in June-First, I will say this book is recommended for 4-8 year olds, so it may be a little advanced for your toddler. It welcomes readers to explore a pride festival and is all about acceptance and tolerance of everyone. It includes a reading guide with a lot of facts about LGBTQ history, as well as a guide for parents that explains how to talk to your child about gender-identity and sexual orientation in age-appropriate ways.
Children Just Like Me: A new celebration of children around the world-This is another book that will be a little advanced for your toddler. However, I strongly encourage you to take a peek at the example pages on Amazon. This book is unique because it introduces your child to other cultures that they may otherwise not have any exposure to. It goes over the story of kids in 36 different countries and highlights what daily life looks like for them. It is easier to be tolerant and accepting of others that we can humanize and understand better.
We cannot pretend that social discourse does not exist when we teach our kids about diversity. Closing your eyes and ignoring it won’t make it go away.
We need to start building a solid foundation of love, acceptance, and empowerment in our kids so that when your child is old enough to have that conversation that although the world is beautiful, it is not butterflies and rainbows, it will be more comfortable and more effective.
Start fostering inclusion and acceptance in your child today; they may change the world someday.
Hang in there, mom.
What about you? Have you faced issues with teaching your child to be inclusive? How difficult is it for you to expose your child to different cultures in your geographical location? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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