Habitot Children's Museum                                                                                                                     August 2016

"How to Talk to Your Children About Differences"
During preschool years, children begin to notice physical aspects of identity. Around age 2, children become increasingly aware of gender. This is followed by curiosity about skin color, hair color and texture, eye shape and color, and other physical attributes. Awareness of disabilities tends to come later; however, some toddlers begin noticing more obvious disabilities, such as a person using a wheelchair. Kids notice similarities and differences from an early age because that is part of how they figure out who they are and where they fit in the world.

Research has shown that all children will inevitably stereotype and categorize people based on race and other differences, so it is vital during their early years to put some context around making sense of differences. For some parents, talking about race, disability and other differences can feel as awkward or as difficult as talking about the birds and the bees. However, how you respond to his curiosity will lay the groundwork for more sophisticated conversations as they get older. Embarrassment or silence gives your child the impression that the topic is off-limits or that a bigoted remark is accurate and acceptable to you. Children look to their parents for moral cues, and learn from your actions as well as your words.

Silence on the matter doesn't prevent racism and prejudice from happening - it actually helps perpetuate it. The earlier we start the conversation and the more mindful our part in it, the better chance our kids (and future generations) will have of getting closer to creating their world with more fairness and equality than what we have today. Here are some tips on having conversation about differences with your children:
  • Look for teachable moments. Not sure how to get the conversation started? If your child comments on different hair, eye or skin colors, that's an easy in. Children's books that discuss race or embrace other cultures are also a gentle introduction. In these moments, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate differences while reinforcing that differences don’t mean people are better or worse and we need to treat all people fairly.
  • Expose your child to all kinds of people. Visit cultural celebrations from other cultures, join friends at a religious activity that is not part of your personal religion, fill their worlds with books and art that accurately and positively show representations of all types of people and cultures. All of this will help your child understand that a normal environment includes many different kinds of people, and they are all worth honoring and celebrating.
  • Speak Up When You Encounter Bias and Prejudice. Children take their lead from the behavior of the adults around them. If someone makes a disparaging remark in front of you and you say nothing, the child assumes that you agree with that person's comment. If you disagree, make a point of saying so. A simple statement of disagreement with those who may make unkind, negative, or disparaging comments will give the children in your care a true sense of what you believe, and a model for speaking up against injustice.
  • Expand the discussion into their classrooms. Talk to your child’s teachers about creating a classroom rich in diverse cultural and gender representations. This may be as simple as playing music with words from different languages, playing games from around the world, making sure bookshelves are stocked with multi-cultural books, or bringing in art or cooking projects that introduce various cultural traditions. If you or others in your family or community have rituals that honor your culture, offer to host a story time or activity to share those traditions with the school.
  • Teach your child to celebrate her uniqueness. Teaching children from a young age that they are wonderful exactly as they are creates a generation of empowered adults. If they learn to honor and embrace their own differences, they are more likely to do so with other people around them. They will inevitably learn that our culture it set up against some people, so if they are already attuned to their own strength and sense of social justice, they will be more likely to be a part of changing our society to become more fair and just as they grow up.
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