5 Tips for Talking to Your Children about Diversity
How to bring a curious heart and mind to important conversations
Caitlyn Valle, LMFT
Culture, diversity, race, identity, privilege, faith, sexism, orientation, disability, ageism. When it comes to these important topics and having sensitive conversations with our children, where do we begin? When is the right time to talk with them about these issues? Children all start out in “blissful ignorance” and those who are “privileged” are able to continue that way for a long time. But there are many children who don’t have that luxury because their differences affect the way others perceive and respond to them. Starting these important, yet sometimes uncomfortable, conversations with our children can help them to grow into curious and caring adults — compassionate toward themselves and others.
Try these 5 tips to examining, staying open and inviting conversations about diversity into your home:
1. Teach your child acceptance of all individuals as human. A popular myth twenty years ago was that we all should be “blind to color.” While the sentiment is in the right place, the overall message actually conveys that we shouldn’t value or acknowledge our differences. To acknowledge differences is to value and accept each person for who he/she/they are. Help your child learn to appreciate the differences in people while reminding them to be sensitive in their exploration.
2. Negative stereotypes are in the media and likely on the playground every day. When you notice them, make a point to bring up a conversation with your child in an age appropriate way at a later time. By becoming comfortable with these conversations and modeling how to have them, we are supporting our children to become culturally sensitive and aware. This sensitivity can translate into respect, humility and love for others.
3. Teach your child to ask questions and encourage their curiosity. Praise your child for asking questions and validate that they are being thoughtful. If your child asks a question you’re not sure how to answer, take a pause and let them know that you want to think about how to answer their very important question, and revisit the topic when you feel ready to tackle it.
4. Accept that there may be a time when your child will say something discriminatory, but this doesn’t make your child a racist. When your child asks a question or says something that shocks you, it’s important not to overreact but also not to ignore it. When your child says something that surprises you, try responding with questions like, “What made you notice that?” or “How do you think that person feels?” Or “How do you think you might feel if someone said the same type thing about you? How do you think it might feel if someone started being mean to you just because you have [pink, tan, brown etc.] skin or have trouble with [walking, math, seeing the chalkboard etc.]?
5. Examine your own attitudes and language about diversity. Children are extremely perceptive and will repeat whatever they see important adults in their life doing and saying. Think about your own experiences with diversity, stereotypes and culture. What do you wish you had known or done differently from a young age?
If we as adults fail to have these discussions and acknowledge human differences, children will be left to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions. If we want a more peaceful and harmonious world, this is a good time to lay the groundwork.