Acceptance and inclusion is something that is best taught at a young age. Since babies are born with no bias but they start to form them as they get older, it's important to teach them about diversity and celebrating differences.
As kids learn to view everyone as people with their own identity and interests, we can hopefully shape a future in which children and adults are free of biases driven by physical features, abilities, and gender.
Keep reading to learn about how to teach children diversity.
How to Teach Diversity
If you're trying to figure out how to teach such a complex topic to your kids, look no further.
Here are my top tips for teaching children diversity:
Teach Children that It's Okay to Ask Questions If They're Curious
We often feel uncomfortable when children ask about people who are different than them. We assume they're doing it to be mean or hurtful when in reality, they're just curious. When we teach kids that they should be ashamed to ask the questions they have, we're teaching them that diversity isn't something that we should be proud of.
Here's an example:
I was working in daycare when a child asked why another boy wears nail polish. The little boy would always have nail polish on his fingers, often different colors. I explained that the other boy liked nail polish so he chose to wear it to school since it made him happy. The boy said, "Oh, like when I wear my dinosaur shirt?"
I smiled and said, "yeah, pretty much."
This boy may not have been exposed to boys wearing nail polish, so it was new for him. He wasn't asking to be rude, he was asking to understand. When we silence the curiosity of children, we're teaching them that diversity and differences are something we should be ashamed of rather than embrace.
We aren't all the same and we all have features and interests that make us unique, so it's important to acknowledge and explain them instead of hiding them.
2. Make Diversity a Part of Your Daily Life
When kids read books, consume media, or talk to others, they're like a sponge and they're absorbing everything. So, if we're reading books to kids, we should try to choose books that feature people of all types. Different abilities, races, cultures, households, sexualities, and economic statuses should be highlighted.
This same idea goes for media. When children are used to seeing a diverse group of people, it won't be strange for them as they grow up. They'll learn to see people of all types as just people and they'll be less likely to discriminate or have hidden biases.
3. Have Open and Honest Conversations About Stereotypes
There are stereotypes about so many different people. When children pick up on these, they may carry them through their whole life and view them as truth. Squashing stereotyping is important at a young age, as this is when biases are being formed.
Here's an example:
When I was working in preschool we were having free play one day, a boy was creating art at the art station when a girl asked him to leave because "art is for girls only." I asked her why she felt that way and she told me because the boys play with the blocks and the girls use the art station.
Since the boys in our classroom avoided the art table for the most part, this was a new thing for her. So, I said to her, "well, if he likes art, shouldn't he be able to do it?" She thought for a minute then said "yeah." I then asked her if she wanted to play with the blocks if she should be allowed to and she agreed that she should.
I went on to explain that being a boy or girl doesn't mean we have to stick to one type of play and that we should all do what makes us happy. She seemed satisfied with the answer and the boy continued to use the art station.
4. Set an Example
Whether you're a teacher, parent, nurse, or other position where you're around kids often, it's important to practice what we're preaching. If I say that all cultures are important and interesting but I only surround myself with one culture or type of person intentionally, I'm not enforcing the narrative I'm selling.
Try to highlight holidays and teach them when you may not have before. I know many teachers don't celebrate holidays at all because they don't want to exclude children. Who says you have to exclude children? Learn about the holidays each child celebrates and teach a lesson on it, read a book about it, or let the child do a show and tell about it.
If we teach kids that all cultures, holidays, and celebrations are important, they won't think their upbringing is the only one that should be celebrated.
While diversity is a pretty complex topic, there are plenty of simple ways to teach it to children. Start small, don't shame children, and make diversity a part of their daily life.