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Discussing Diversity with Kids: How, When, and Why


15 March 2023

By: Natasha Poulopoulos, PhD. (Dr. Tash)


 


In a rapidly changing world, fostering open and honest conversations with kids about diversity is critical to their development. Such conversations instill in young minds the value of acceptance, inclusivity, and empathy. Research shows that infants can recognize differences in skin color by 6 months old, and by as early as age 3, children demonstrate racial preferences and bias. 


Here’s the good news, kids are naturally curious and their brains are like sponges, ready and wanting to absorb the world around them! Conversations early on — the earlier, the better — can help children learn how to recognize and embrace diversity to mitigate stereotypes, prejudice, and biases. 


In the most simplistic manner, defining diversity is explaining to kids that everyone is unique, and that differences among us are to be celebrated! Different does not mean less than. Emphasizing similarities and shared interests helps kids feel connected and relate to one another, even when some identities differ. 



How To Talk to Kids About Diversity:


Keep Age and Development in Mind: Tailor discussions to children's age and developmental level, use simple language and concrete examples to help them understand. 


  1. Preschoolers are learning and applying fairness and kindness. This sets the stage for discussions about treating people who may look, learn, or speak differently from us, as equal. As the golden rule says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” 

  2. School-age kids are highly curious and it is normative for them to ask questions about their friends and peers. Sometimes kids may ask, “Why are they in a wheelchair? Why do they have two moms?” If you don’t know the answer to some questions, let your child know that. You can also provide brief explanations, such as, “All families are different. Some families may have one parent, two parents, a grandparent, or two parents - like a mom and dad, or two moms or dads. What matters is that families love and respect one another.” Another response may be, “I don’t know, but it looks like the wheelchair helps them get where they need to go.”

  3. Lead by Example: Take time to reflect on your own biases and worldviews. Get curious about your family's culture, race, and additional identities. Then, begin to observe your own community, environment, and exposure to diversity. If you come to the realization that your social circle and community are lacking diversity, this is the time to explore different communities and cultures with your child. Try visiting a new community/neighborhood, restaurant, museum, or parade. Kids are always watching and learning from parents – model inclusive behavior and language.

  4. Use Books and Media: Introduce diverse books, TV shows, and movies that showcase characters from various backgrounds and cultures, sparking conversations about diversity.

  5. Encourage Questions: Create an open and non-judgmental environment where children feel comfortable asking questions about diversity.


When To Talk to Kids About Diversity:


  1. Start Early: Begin conversations about diversity early on - the sooner the better. This may look different for every family. 

  2. Seize Teachable Moments: Use everyday situations, such as encounters with people from different backgrounds or cultural celebrations, as opportunities to discuss diversity.

  3. Make it a Regular Topic: Integrate discussions about diversity into daily routines, making it a natural part of conversations rather than a one-time event. Discussions are always ongoing!

  4. Revisit and Reinforce: Revisit topics of diversity regularly, reinforcing key concepts and addressing any new questions or observations that arise.


Why is Talking About Diversity with Kids Important?


  1. Fostering Inclusivity: By discussing diversity with young children, we promote inclusivity and help them understand that differences in race, ethnicity, culture, religion, and abilities are what make our world rich and vibrant. These are qualities to be celebrated! 

  2. Building Empathy: Understanding and appreciating diversity from an early age helps children develop empathy and compassion towards people who may be different from themselves.

  3. Nurturing Self-Worth: Conversations and explanations about diversity may also include examination of the negative experiences kids will face, such as prejudice, stereotypes, or exclusion. When kids learn about their own identities, different identities, and the root of unfair treatment to particular identities, they can understand how to manage their emotions and respond in situations. 

  4. Countering Bias and Stereotypes: Addressing diversity early on can reduce biased beliefs, stereotypes, and discrimination.

  5. Preparing for a Diverse World: In today's world, it is essential for children to feel safe to ask questions to trusted adults about current events and experiences.


Talking to young children about diversity is not only important, it is necessary. If parents ignore these discussions or silence children’s questions/experiences, kids will be negatively impacted. By starting conversations about diversity early on, using age-appropriate approaches, and fostering open dialogue, we can help children embrace diversity, celebrate differences, and contribute to building a more inclusive and equitable society for all.


For more information or to share your thoughts send an email to info@drtash.com.

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