"Mom, why does she look different?"
This is a question that many of us have had to grapple with as we raise our kids in an increasingly multicultural and multi-ethnic society. As a person of colour myself, I've been on the receiving end of the question and can still remember an incident (one of many) that happened to me as a child.
I was about eight or so, and was leaving a large department store with my mother. Another child, about the same age as me, saw me, turned to her mother, pointed at me and asked "Why is she Black?"
The mother looked mortified, said "SHHHH!!!" and quickly scurried the child out of the store. I was left standing there with my own mother feeling confused and ashamed, though I wasn't sure why. My mother, thankfully, spoke to me about why people would have questions and that curiosity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Oftentimes, questions such as this are a starting point for some very important discussions that parents can have with their children.
It's all about how we as parents handle these types of situations when they occur. Our responses are going to set the stage for how our own children behave in future. "Monkey see, monkey do," as they say. For this reason, it's so important to instill not only an understanding of other cultures and ethnicities, but a respect and interest and celebration of them as well.
Living in Toronto, I've been very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible range of these cultures and ethnicities. It's one of the things I love about the city and appreciate that my children have had the opportunity to be learn about diversity. Unfortunately, not all places are as diverse and there are still situations where children are being faced with being the object of another child's questioning, just as I was so many years ago.
For parents who are trying to raise children who are more culturally and ethnically aware, regardless of their locale, there are some things that can be done. Following are six tips for parents who want to raise kids who have an appreciation for diversity.
Diversity and Kids -- Top 6 Tips For Parents
1) Friends Not Foes -- There's nothing like a good friendship to make a child want to learn more about a person's culture. Children are naturally curious and are drawn to new people and ideas. Encourage your kids to have relationships with a variety of peers from different backgrounds and ethnicities. The opportunity for learning and understanding as well as making a new pal will be well worth it.
2) Food For Thought- - Are you stuck in a Meatloaf Monday or Taco Tuesday treadmill? If so, how about mixing things up a bit and exposing your child to some other food options? Having different foods around the house and serving them for meals is a great way of teaching kids about other cultures. Check out some different recipes from other cultures online or invest in a cookbook that specializes in meals from around the world. Your child will likely love it and it will give you a starting point for discussions about diversity.
3) The Inside Story -- Reading is always a great activity for kids and in this case, even more so. Go to your local library with your child and check out some books that highlight other cultures. These can include historical and factual-type books as well as anthologies that combine cultural tales and stories. For smaller kids, help them choose picture books at the library and read cultural stories with them. They'll appreciate the novelty of the stories and will be more likely to remain interested.
4) Talk the Talk -- There's nothing like immersing oneself in another language to fully understand the nuances of a culture. Of course it's somewhat different for a child, but getting children interested in speaking a new language is a great first step towards diversity appreciation. Whether it's through classes at school or taking lessons after school or on weekends, language is a great portal to understanding another culture.
5) Lead by Example -- As parents, we have a job to do and one of them is realizing that our children will follow the examples we set. If we convey negative or suspicious attitudes about other cultures and ethnicities, our kids will pick up on these and replicate our behaviour. "Monkey see, monkey do" is real so keep this in mind and remember to convey a positive and open attitude about other cultures, particularly around your children.
6) Culture Club -- Fairs, festivals, events -- these are all great opportunities to open up your child's understanding of those from other backgrounds. Wherever possible, attend cultural and ethnic celebrations with your children and expose them to some of the great traditions that so many celebrate. Take your kids to culturally-focused events and immerse them in the customs of others. By doing so, your child will have a greater appreciation for others and will learn something in the process as well.
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