How to Teach Diversity to Our Young Children?

June 19, is an American holiday named Juneteenth or Freedom Day. 156 years ago — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 — the Proclamation was formally read by Gordon Granger in Texas, the last state in the US to emancipate the African American slaves. However, despite this substantial milestone for human rights and the number of years in between, inequalities between races still exist today.

The latest events in the news woke me up: I am a mother of two young girls, and I realized that I can make a difference. I can teach my children to raise their voices against injustice. We, as parents, can create a more equitable future by teaching our children about diversity.

So how can we raise children who embrace diversity?

1. Take an unconscious bias test

Becoming self-aware of our unconscious beliefs and attitudes is the starting point, as our self-perception can differ from our actual behavior and implicit biases. I recently discovered this Implicit Association Test (IAT) test from Harvard. There are several tests in the list, but I looked at the Skin-Tone IAT. It takes about ten minutes, but it is a well-designed test and worth the time.

The test “often reveals an automatic preference for light-skin relative to dark-skin”, according to Harvard. So the next step is to acknowledge the result of the test and then work on adjusting that mindset by reading online articles or taking free online classes like this one (unless, of course, you are one of the mere 19% who has little or no negative preference).

Taking this test and our more mindful actions following the test help us grow. This also helps our children grow too as our children replicate what they see and perceive in us.

2. Invite diversity into our world

In the toys we buy

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Photo by Polina Letshin on Shutterstock

We can, for instance, buy dolls, puppets, and toy figurines with a variety of skin tones.

In the books we read

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My 5-year old reading It’s OK to be Different by Sharon Purtill (Photo credit: Estelle Bardon)

For Preschoolers:

  • Daniel Tiger books: Daniel and his diverse friends describe life events in a charming manner.
  • Dora the Explorer books: This bilingual girl and her friends are full of creativity as they try to reach her goals.
  • It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr delivers the important messages of acceptance, understanding, and confidence in a child-friendly format.
  • Special People, Special Ways by Michael Tyler explains that although people may have something different about them, they share many similarities.

For Kindergarteners and Elementary children:

  • It’s OK to be Different by Sharon Purtill explains how different we are and why it is okay to be different.
  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña: A grandmother explains to her grandson how to look behind appearances with compassion.
  • All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold shares the routine of a school where everyone is welcome.
  • Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison tells true stories of strong black women whose achievements broke boundaries.
  • Honeycake: A Family of Spices by Medea Kalantar. While baking the family cake a grandmother details how each delicious ingredient represents a different family member and his or her unique ethnic background.

In the TV shows or movies our children watch

  • Super why: Four friends solve reading enigmas when they become superheroes.
  • Dora the Explorer: See above
  • Daniel Tiger: See above
  • Mira, Royal Detective from Disney: Inspired by Indian culture and customs, Mira is hired to solve mysteries for the queen.
  • Nella the Princess Knight: Nella is a princess who transforms into a knight!

In our discussions with our children

When our children ask questions, make comments related to ‘differences’.

  • Being the same and being different is natural. We would be bored living with our clones. The more diverse our world is, the more precious it becomes.
  • Some people have light brown, dark brown, pink, olive skin colors — isn’t that great?
  • “It isn’t fair to judge others based solely on their skin color, faith, or the language they choose to speak, because we wouldn’t like someone else doing the same to us,” as lsa Marie Collins from Parents Latina explained.
  • “Everybody is special, and so-and-so is special because his family can speak another language,” as Kara Corridan and Wanda Medina propose in their article in Parents.com.

This Kindergarten teacher made this video for parents who struggle to find the right words.

3. Lead by example

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Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock

Our children model their behavior on ours.

When we hear people not respecting differences or making rude comments, we should speak up and explain in simple words what happened.

When we see someone struggling with a language barrier, we can help this person out.

When our children see that we respect others, they will be respectful to others. When we open our doors to our friends regardless of differences in culture, our children open their hearts to all kinds of friends.

If we live in a world that embraces diversity, diversity becomes the norm for our children.

How do you intentionally teach diversity to your children?

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