Developing an appreciation for diversity

Dr. Lewis First (Photo provided)

Parents have been anything but prejudicial in asking me recently about what they can do to ensure their children grow up with an appreciation of diversity in others. Well, let me provide an unbiased look at this important topic.

Appreciating diversity means being open and respectful of the differences that exist in all of us. It means learning from each other to create new bonds of friendship and understanding. Often children may be way ahead of parents in regard to their exposure to cultural differences based on their friends, classmates and teammates who may be far more diverse than friends we as parents and grandparents may remember having as we were growing up.

So how do you teach your children to value the diversity in everyone with a sense of inclusion and equity?

Be a role model for your children and show them how to appreciate the differences in others. Go out of your way to respectfully interact with and learn about people who are different from you. Talk with your children about the fact that biases do exist, but also stress the importance of recognizing when those biases influence your child’s preferred friends or activities. Ask your children how they would feel if they were excluded from a game because of how they looked or dressed.

Be aware of how you talk about others different from yourself since your children are always listening.

Select books, toys, music and watch videos that celebrate cultural and racial differences, especially if your children do not regularly encounter people from backgrounds significantly different from their own. When biases or stereotypes are being demonstrated in a book, movie, song or on TV, point out the problem with those biases rather than accept them as the norm. Point out the differences in each member of your own family and then note that those differences are really a strength for each individual that together makes your family even more diverse, inclusive and valued.

Remind your older children it is never acceptable to bully or make fun of people of a different race, ethnicity or gender identity. Practice different phrases that your children can use to speak up when they see someone not being treated fairly, such as “Why are you saying those words that make my friend and me feel uncomfortable?”

Don’t forget to focus on your child’s own strengths to promote their self-esteem since if they feel good about themselves, they are less threated by the differences in others, and in fact will help others with those differences find their strengths as well.

Hopefully tips like these will bias you in the right direction when it comes to recognizing the important role parents and grandparents can play in teaching children to appreciate and celebrate the diversity in all of us.

Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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