July 3, 2020 — By Wendy Sachs
When we think about the humans we are hoping to raise, we hope they are accepting and welcoming of others. This actually means starting early to expose your child to those who are different than you- not only in race, ethnicity, religion or politics, but also in socioeconomic class, family structure, physical abilities and more.
Suggestions for your home:
- Books are one of the easiest ways we can expose children to those who are different than them. It is important to thoughtfully build your home library with books that offer ordinary stories with a wide variety of protagonists. In this way children identify, that there are universal themes and obstacles that we all face, no matter what groups we might belong in.
- Explore your community, and communities near you. It can be as simple as taking your kids to different restaurants to experience different cuisines or traveling to a new playground or park in an area where they are likely to see kids and families that may be different than them. Strike up a conversation and build relationships when you can.
- When kids ask questions, be sure to resist the urge to shush them or shut them down. Instead, take a moment to objectively answer the question. Children are natural seekers of information so encouraging them to learn about and respect others who are different from them will help them to explore these topics in ways that are meaningful.
- Explore festivals and the arts. Celebrations are the perfect place to start an appreciation of other cultures. Kids love music and while they may not be enthused about trying new foods, they do enjoy a party! Check out the Special Olympics, the Puerto Rican Festival and Parade, the Odunde Festival and other celebrations, even if virtually until we move to larger gaterhings.
- Teach kids about your own identity and culture. Starting with sharing information on where your family comes from and what things are different there and what is the same is important. And it provides a natural springboard to then explore cultures from others we know and then onto learning about cultures where we might not know anyone. It may not be easy to travel now, but we can virtually travel by having theme dinners with music, food, photos and videos of different places and people. Whether that is the heart of New Orleans or Southern Italy or the islands of the Caribbean, exposure and curiosity is key.
As a family, setting a good example is the strongest way to encourage kids to grow into accepting, thoughtful and respectful adults.