We are raising our children in a world of diversity and it is normal for them to be curious about differences. Children notice variations in skin color, hair texture, body size or ability — even when someone wears glasses or an article of clothing they’ve never seen before. This curiosity is healthy and normal.
Children may ask questions, act out their curiosity by mimicking what they see, or even play out their thoughts and feelings using dolls or action figures. As adults and role models, it is our job to give them an emotionally safe place to express their curiosity, feelings and thoughts while helping them understand differences.
Here are a few helpful tips for parents:
- When you encounter people with differences in everyday life:
DO be a consistent, positive role model. Your child is watching and will learn from your example. Treat all people with respect, kindness and acceptance, and your child will do the same.
- If your child asks a question such as, “Why does that woman have a scarf on her hair?” or “Why is that boy in that chair with wheels?”:
DO answer matter-of-factly, “Some people wear head coverings” or “His body is not able to walk. That chair helps him get around.”
DON’T scold your child for asking a question, because you don’t want them to feel ashamed of being inquisitive, which is a part of a child’s development. Reply by saying, “You are feeling curious about that. It’s OK to be curious and it’s always fine to ask. Next time, just whisper in my ear so I can answer your question.”
- If you know in advance your child will be seeing people who are noticeably different than people they’ve met before:
DO be a model of acceptance. Allow your child to express his curiosity and address it as it arises.
DON’T try to prepare your child in advance. Making an issue of it ahead of time negates a child’s ability to accept and adapt naturally. Resist the urge to over-inform and only address your child’s questions as they arise.
DON’T worry about your child blurting out something embarrassing. It is perfectly normal for young children to speak out. Be prepared to answer simply.
- When selecting books, toys and children’s shows:
DO be sure to include children with differences (whether it’s hair or skin color, glasses, special needs, etc.) and be present to answer any questions your child may have. Two excellent books to start with are “Don’t Call Me Special” by Pat Thomas and “It’s Okay to Be Different” by Todd Parr.
As caregivers, we can gently shape social behaviors by teaching children to be accepting and kind while exploring their curiosity. By ensuring your child has opportunities to be around others who are different from them on a regular basis, you can help your child understand that people are people — regardless of these differences.
For more about teaching children the value of diversity, check out:
- Fostering a Sense of Belonging in Every Child
- Helping Your Child Embrace Differences
- 4 Books About Acceptance and Inclusion for Children
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