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Teaching Your Child about Cultural Awareness and Diversity

Teaching Your Child about Cultural Awareness and Diversity
Posted on February 13, 2019 by CHS

Many parents and early childhood educators are concerned with raising children to be culturally proficient and respectful. Research shows that children notice differences in race, ability, family composition, and a multitude of other factors from a very early age, and they begin to ask questions in an attempt to make sense of those observations, so they can make sense of their own world.

Children are not yet developmentally equipped to refrain from sharing what they think or asking what they want to know, and sometimes they can ask challenging questions about race, disabilities, culture, or other sensitive topics at challenging times. If a parent tries to avoid answering these questions, it could send the message that there is something wrong with the other person or with asking questions. 

Parents should answer children’s questions about differences honestly and respectfully. This teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences, as long as it is done with respect. You can take the opportunity to help your child understand and respect differences and similarities among people by providing brief, objective responses to their questions. This will not only help your child navigate difference in others, but also understand who she/he is in the context of your race, ethnic group, culture, religion, language, and familial history.

If in asking questions about differences, children are using hurtful or stereotypical language, explore with them why such language is hurtful. Explain, in an age-appropriate manner, why stereotypes don't tell the whole story and are divisive.

Here are some other tips for promoting cultural awareness and respect:

1) Language: Teach your child words in the native language of your family and community members. Teach them words in languages represented in their classroom.

2) Books: Choose children’s books that help your child understand their identity and also learn about those who are different in terms of race, family composition, religious beliefs, and ability.

Book Recommendations from PBS Parents:  It’s Okay to be Different (diversity); The Skin You Live In (acceptance); Same, Same But Different (culture and geography); Whoever You Are (diversity); Where Does God Live (religion); What is God (religion); Over the Moon (adoption); Don’t Call Me Special (disabilities); My Brother Sammy (autism); and The Family Book (different family configurations).

3) Life Experiences: Encourage cross racial/ethnic/religious/ability friendships. Expose your child to foods from various cultures. Attend cultural events and celebrations. Watch age-appropriate films about other cultures. Visit your local children’s or history museum.

4) Role Modeling: Children become culturally sensitive and respectful when they see adults who are culturally sensitive and respectful, and who take a stand against bias, racism, or insensitivity. Notice your own attitudes and reflect on your personal biases. Parents who want to help their kids value diversity can be sensitive to cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them. Demonstrate an attitude of respect for others. Take a “strengths-based” perspective when talking with children about those who are different from them. This perspective focuses on the positive characteristics of a person and her abilities, what that person is able to do or does (as compared to what they cannot) and how differences make our world a better place. Acknowledge and respect differences within your own family. Demonstrate acceptance of your children's differing abilities, interests, and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family.

We live in an increasingly diverse world and kids are interacting with more people of differing ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Classrooms are also increasingly diverse, reflecting the communities where families live and work. When parents guide their kids to live, learn, and work in diverse communities, they prepare them to be culturally aware, proficient, and respectful.

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