When I was a child living in a small, rural community, my worldview was pretty narrow. It wasn’t until college that I realized that there are many other perspectives on life. Thankfully, a lot has changed since then and our communities – even in rural areas – are more culturally diverse than ever.
The 2010 United States census indicated that, for the first time in American history, America’s racial and ethnic “minorities” make up about half of the under-5 age group, and non-Hispanic white Americans are expected to become a minority group over the next 30 years. This dramatic cultural shift puts our children at the forefront of sweeping changes and presents parents and educators with wonderful opportunities to teach many important life lessons.
For our children to thrive in an increasingly global society, they need to understand their own culture, as well as the different backgrounds of their peers. That’s why, at each Primrose school, children begin the year by celebrating the cultures represented in their classrooms. As a result, they learn how to take a different perspective, developing appreciation and empathy for others, and learning that “different” is all a matter of, well, perspective!
Ellen Galinsky, president and co-Founder of the Families and Work Institute, work life researcher, former NAEYC president, and parenting book author, considers perspective-taking an essential life skill that involves putting aside our own thoughts and feelings in order to understand how someone else perceives the world. In her book, Mind in the Making, Galinsky explains that young children who learn this broader view adjust to kindergarten faster, as they have a better understanding of what their teachers want and expect. Furthermore, children who are able to take perspective resolve conflicts better than those who have not yet developed this skill. And, children who consider other perspectives develop better reading skills because they can appreciate a book character’s point of view even if it is different from their personal experience.
As our society becomes more of a cultural melting pot, it is essential that our children respect the perspectives of those around them. So, how can we promote perspective-taking in children? Galinsky offers several suggestions:
- Be a role model. Take time to listen to and understand your child’s feelings. Children who feel understood are better able to understand others.
- Find teachable moments. When you have a conflict with your child, share your feelings and ask your child how she feels, too. Discuss possible solutions to the problem. This technique also works well when sibling rivalry escalates.
- Use everyday moments and experiences to talk about other people’s perspectives. Encourage your child to think about why someone was sad or upset.
- Tune in. Repeat your child’s words back to her. Describe what you see going on. Ask a question. Let your child know that you understand how he feels.
- Act out feelings. Provide opportunities to pretend or rehearse new experiences with toys, puppets and dolls.
America is relatively young and has always attracted families from other places. Most of us can trace our ancestry back to another country with different customs and languages. Celebrating diversity gives us the chance to talk to children not only about different perspectives, but also about their roots and how diversity continues to make America a very special place to live.
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