Children do not come into this world knowing discrimination. Their innocence of historical treatment of minority populations is precious and incredibly pure, but something that won’t last. Teaching and showing children diversity can help keep them from forming discriminatory views that are often common in school and home settings, whether intentional or unintentional. While a topic that can seem “heavy”, there are age appropriate ways to talk about it.
Start with acknowledging visual differences in others. Whether that is in race, gender, size, and ability, it is okay to state that there are differences. Everyone is different, which is not only acceptable, but normal. Along with acknowledging differences, it is important to instill the idea that these differences are not to be judged. Young children’s thinking is ego-centric, meaning they see and relate to the world around them through themselves. Until they grow, learn, and their brain develops further, guide them to see how people, activities, etc. are acceptable and normal if different from them or how things are done in their home.
Diversity also can be taught in terms of “variety”. For example, having a variety of foods or wearing a variety of clothes may be suitable. While this does not equate to the complexity of racial and ethnic diversity, understanding the concept of engaging with diversity on small scales in their lives can help them to eventually understand that just like they eat and wear a lot of things, they will engage with diverse people in their lives. Depending upon where you live, you may need to intentionally seek out different populations than your own to give your children opportunities to engage with many different people and situations.
In conjunction with diversity, it is important to also cultivate empathy. While many children may naturally have empathy, positively reinforcing empathy when you see it is always encouraged. With empathy, we have a larger capacity to accept things that are different from us. We don’t need to have experienced the same things in order to understand how it may affect someone. Asking a child how they would feel if a certain situation or comment was said to them may help them to see how someone else may feel in those scenarios. While full understanding of this may not develop until later in life, seeing the world from other’s views is a great thing to introduce in childhood.
Learning and understanding privilege is also vital to learning diversity. Even as adults, privilege can be a difficult concept to understand, or unfortunately, to believe in. Find ways to teach your child, or children in your life, that due to some of their circumstances they are given opportunities that others may not have. A good example may be, if your child and their friends are having a race, but everyone has to start at a different spot, who has the best chance to win? The child who is most likely to win is the child closest to the finish line, which is privilege. As they get older, introducing the idea that socioeconomic status, family composition, documentation status, sexuality, religion, gender, and race are all factors that influence where you start in that race.
Earlier is better, but anytime is a great time to teach children about diversity and privilege. It is vitally important to understand racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, and religious diversity versus teaching “color-blindness” or “everyone is the same” concepts. While there are many similarities on a personal, intimate level between humans, awareness of differences on a macro level is crucial for healthy development of self and society.