Teaching kids to respect diversity: Here's what to know

As our society becomes more diverse, children are increasingly exposed to people from different backgrounds and cultures.
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By Michelle Balani

As our society becomes more diverse, children are increasingly exposed to people from different backgrounds and cultures. It is only natural that young children wonder about those who are different from them in some way, so it’s important to teach your child about the value of diversity. Show him that these differences in beliefs, cultures, and religions only serve to enrich our lives and bring new ideas and energies to our world. As a parent, you can help prepare your child to be accepting and tolerant of others by celebrating differences and creating opportunities for your child to interact with people from various backgrounds.

Talk about the value of diversity. Healthy social and emotional development is often defined by the environment and culture in which a child is raised, and it varies from child to child. Children start identifying as part of a group based on race, ethnicity, religion, or other affiliations. Teach your child about diversity by explaining to him that even within his own group, people are different and that there is no one standard that is better than the others. You can also do this by asking him how he would feel if all of his toys were the same or if all of the crayons in the box were the same color.

Discuss your family’s background with your child. Many people come from a range of backgrounds and their family trees include an array of nationalities and cultures. If you have ancestors who were immigrants to this country, ask your child why they came here and what it must have been like for them in a new country. If you want to host an event to celebrate your family’s cultural history, have your child ask family members about the importance of this particular holiday. Celebrating the traditions from different parts of the world can help foster a sense of appreciation for cultural differences and spark curiosity to learn more about other people.

Teach your child to respect others. Whether his classmate has two moms or dads, lives with their grandparents, comes from a biracial family, or has different physical capabilities, your child will always encounter classmates who are different from him. For example, when speaking with your child about physical differences, keep your explanations simple, like, “Your classmate is in a wheelchair because a part of her body does not work.” Or if another child has a learning disability, you can tell your child, “Your classmate’s mind works differently from yours, and it sometimes takes him longer to learn.” Be sure to include comments about what these children can do, and what they do well, like “I notice that Cindy smiles and brings joy into your classroom, too.” Explain to him that a disability is just one trait that a person may have and it does not mean that he shouldn’t try to interact with or befriend them.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author, and Educational Psychologist.