As a parent, one of our fears is the embarrassment of our child pointing out differences in other people such as cultural differences or handicaps. We all know kids, especially toddlers can be disturbingly honest, so is it best to tell them to hush and tech them not to point? Or is it better to inform them about differences, give them the chance to ask questions, and let them know it is okay to be different? Our guest poster this week is here to give us 5 Ways To Help Your Child Understand Cultural Differences.
Here is what Jessica, our guest poster has to say
We all have those teachers that stick in our mind because of something they used to always say or do. This is the case with my eighth grade teacher. She used to regularly quote “Out of the mouths of babes come gems.” I always thought it was a fun saying but it never really resonated—until I had kids that is. With kids isn’t it that they always say things at the most inopportune time? What I have found is that while this may be embarrassing for us parents, most of the time it comes from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand.
As a family that is multicultural and travels to different cultures, I have had to face these situations more than I am comfortable to admit, but such is life with a curious toddler. As I have navigated these situations I have come up with five different ways that you address diversity and cultural differences with your children so that you can help your children understand and avoid these uncomfortable situations.
5 Ways To Address Cultural Differences With Children
1 . Differences In Things
Before you even begin to discuss differences in people, you should start by focusing on differences in things. For instance, I know in our family we have several sets of nesting blocks, ring towers, etc. Use a simple tool like this to begin the conversation of how each of the blocks is the same. They all have four sides, are squares/circles, etc. Once you’ve covered differences, you can then cover differences. Example: differences in color, size, pictures (if there are), etc. This can be done in reverse (focusing on differences before similarities) and with literally any toy or thing that you have more than one of such as race cars, Legos, kitchen spatulas cups, the possibilities are endless. This introduces the idea that while there are differences we are ultimately the same.
2 . Use Accessible Language
The language you use with your child will determine how much they can understand. With younger children you do not need to go into as much detail as it is likely something the would not understand. However, with older children the topic should be discussed openly, despite how uncomfortable you may be with the topic. It is important to keep the conversation natural and teach them about diversity in a way that you would teach them about anything else.
3 . Use Real-Life Scenarios
Children, like adults, learn best from examples. If your child has been in a certain situation where there has been diversity, ask the child to recall the situation and provide relevant explanation. Another option is to discuss the issue with children as they ask. Children are naturally curious and will ask about differences as they see them. As long as you are respectful of the other culture and person use their curiosity as a teaching moment.
4 . Embrace Differences
One of the best ways to address differences is to embrace them. Interacting with different cultures regularly can help teach children to embrace the differences of others. There are so many ways can be incorporated into your lives including attending cultural festivals in the community, watching YouTube videos from different regions of the world, books, movies, etc.
For more ideas on how to integrate different cultures into your lives, click here.
5 . Build Their Self-Esteem
Children with high self-esteem are generally more confident in themselves. When a child is self-confident they are more likely to be accepting of others. Building self-esteem in children can be done by giving children emotional support and the opportunity to be independent. This is needed more than compliments. This gives children the opportunity to learn about themselves and trust their decisions.
Implementing these into your regular routine can help build understanding in your child so that when they are faced with a person (or family) that is different from theirs they recognize they are different but find the similarities as well. If you know your child is going to be interacting with someone of a different culture I would recommend prior to the interaction focusing on explaining the specific difference and the beauty of the difference as well as make the difference relatable (compare the difference to something the child knows)—the earlier the better, not right before. Often times if we focus directly on how an upcoming interaction is going to be different that is the first thing children will notice. If we leave them to experience the situation on their own they may not even bring it up. If they do, simply provide an explanation or if the circumstances are right, ask the person the child is curious about to explain why they are different (i.e. culture, religious beliefs, etc.). Asking someone to explain is a judgment call you will have to make based on the specific circumstances of the situation.
Ultimately, our children are just curious. They are experiencing the world for the first time and are just trying to figure everything out. They look to parents for guidance and explanation. Therefore, the best thing we as parents can do for our children is to be a role model. Act in the way that you want your child to act and they will likely mimic your behavior.
Individuality and differences are some of the most beautiful things in the world. Let us embrace them ourselves and teach our children to do the same.
Jessica from Our Global Love is a mother of two children and takes pride in her multicultural family and translates that love into her articles on her site. She home schools her family and loves to travel. Check out her blog to see her work and read her thoughts and views on raising a family across cultures.
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If you enjoyed this, check out: 23 Things I Will Teach My Daughter