By: Marlene Affeld ~
Bigotry and bullying are learned behaviors. No child is born with hatred in his or her heart. Children model their behavior and belief after the actions and opinions of their parents and peers. Sadly, within our society, the differences between people frequently ignite racial or sexual insults, caustic name-calling, harassment, cruel bullying, and violence.
Parents ask how they can instill in their children respect and understanding for people who act, sound or look differently than they do. Educators and child psychiatrists offer sage advice and creative examples of how parents can establish an environment where ethnic diversity is appreciated and valued.
Words Can Wound
Teach children from an early age that certain words can hurt other people and that racial, ethnic and sexual slurs are not allowed. Avoid teaching political correctness without teaching the underlying reasons why certain words are used to wound and should never be repeated.
Scholastic.com suggests, “Don’t let racist and prejudicial remarks go by without intervening. It’s important to let children know from a very early age that name-calling of any kind, whether it’s about someone’s religion, race, ethnic background, or sexual orientation, is hurtful and wrong.”
Many children have a tendency to mimic and “go along” with the opinions of their contemporaries, thinking it’s cute or clever to parrot conversation they have overheard.
Teach children to be critical thinkers, specifically about prejudice and discrimination. Critical thinking is when we strive to understand issues through examining and questioning. Young children can begin to develop these skills, to know when a word or an image is unfair or hurtful.
Create a home environment that embraces diversity and honors individuality. Plan family activities that reflect the rich ethnic tapestry of the unique cultures that make up America.
The Anti-Defamation League comments on the importance of the home environment, stating, “What is in a child’s environment (as well as what is absent) provides children with important information about who and what is important. Therefore every effort should be made to create a setting that is rich in possibilities for exploring cultural diversity. Consider decorating their rooms with objects made from a variety of materials; if they are enrolled in a formal preschool program, work with the teacher to see that their classroom follows suit. Play music with words from different languages and try to introduce games from around the world. Try art projects that introduce various cultural traditions. Folk dancing and storytelling are two especially effective ways to introduce children to other cultures.”
- For young children, plan a month long focus on another culture by giving children an opportunity to taste or cook a variety of foods served by a different ethnic group.
- Purchase an old-fashioned globe for your home and make it a game to teach children around different regions of the world and where they are in reference to your home.
- Provide props such as clothing, dolls, books, movies, or posters that are culturally diverse.
- Teach your child several new key words or phrases in the language of the culture; gratitude and love sound sweet-voiced in every language. For school age children, place name stickers in a foreign language on common household items such as the telephone, television, bed or refrigerator. Make a game with a small reward for learning and using the new words.
- Visit and participate in cultural events and celebrations. Expose children to the art and music of other cultures.
We Are All Different
Lead by example, never allowing racial slurs or diminutive descriptivism to be part of your vocabulary. Show children that the differences we see in other people doesn’t define them and that people should be judged as individuals on character and not skin color, religion or sexual orientation.
Christopher J. Metzler, Ph.D. in an article titled “Teaching Children About Diversity, advises, “Get out of our comfort zone. For all the talk about diversity, Americans still segregate ourselves into fairly homogenous communities. Teaching our children to accept differences may require that we use the power of the Internet to learn about differences, that we seek out cultural activities that are out of our community and explore the strength and value in diversity. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn about differences from a voyeuristic point of view. Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives.”