“Mama, why is the colour of her skin different from mine?” asked four-year-old Priya when she noticed an American lady at the mall. Jaya, Priya's mother, redirected her attention towards something else, and she forgot the topic. However, when they reached home, little Priya asked the same question again. Jaya replied, “God made us all different. So, while some people have dark-coloured skin, others have a lighter skin tone.” To this Priya said, “But, why didn’t God give all of us the same skin colour? Why are we different?” Jaya was stumped. She didn’t know how to give a satisfactory answer to her daughter. However, she realised that, in the future, Priya would be asking her many such uncomfortable questions and she needed to speak to her daughter about cultural diversity and the importance of respecting differences.
Diversity refers to the various differences that exist between human beings, for example, differences of race, gender, religion, age, ability, language, socio-economic status and culture. Children begin to notice these differences from a young age. They are naturally curious and want to understand the world around them. So, they ask questions. In an increasingly globalised society, it is important for children to look beyond these differences and, understand and appreciate others. And, it is the responsibility of parents to help children understand, accept and celebrate universal diversity.
At first, explaining diversity to your children can be a little difficult. Nevertheless, it is important to have these conversations with them and sensitise them to these differences. Here are eight ways you can teach your child about diversity:
How to teach your child about diversity
- Become familiar with your own culture: In order to appreciate another culture, it is important to first know your own. Discuss family traditions, encourage your child to speak to elders and take him to your ancestral home, if you have one. By understanding the nuances of his family tradition and the culture he belongs to, he will begin to develop an appreciation for other cultures as well.
- Celebrate different festivals: Don’t just celebrate festivals belonging to your own community or region, but also those of other cultures. Teach your child their significance. Encourage her to take part in the festivities by coming up with home decor ideas based on these festivals, cooking special meals and even wearing traditional costumes for the occasion. This is a fun and engaging way to help your child understand different cultures.
- Travel: Travelling with your child can open his eyes to how things work in different regions of the world, or even in his own country. It gives your child an opportunity to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds and experience the rich cultural diversity first-hand.
- Encourage your child to get a pen pal: Teach your child how to find pen pals and exchange letters. This will enable her to get in touch with individuals from different parts of the world. It will also help her develop an appreciation for and understand different points of view. There are several websites through which you can help your child find pen pals suitable for her age from across the world.
- Teach multiple languages: Encouraging your child to learn multiple languages can go a long way in enhancing his cross-cultural understanding. Being able to speak in the language of the local community makes locals feel a lot more open to sharing things with you. This will enable your child to be more empathetic towards individuals from different communities and countries. Learning multiple languages can also make travel more fun and widen your child's career opportunities.
- Read books by diverse authors: Read your child fairy tales and stories from multiple cultures. Ensure your bookshelves are well-stocked with books written by foreign authors, as well as Indian authors from different parts of the country. This will not only inculcate in her the joy of reading but also motivate her to learn more about different cultures.
- Listen to music from different cultures and genres: Listening to music from different regions can give your child some idea of how unique each culture is. You can listen to music while driving, having a family meal or any time during the day, when your child is free. Music is the universal language spoken by different communities across the world and it helps foster an understanding of various cultures.
- Experience foreign language media: Watch cartoons or foreign language films (with subtitles) along with your child. Exposure to media, such as this, will educate your child and, more importantly, help her see other cultures from their perspective.
As children grow up, they become aware of the differences in individuals around them. They take note of how individuals are treated based on their background or community. This greatly influences their attitude and thought process. Therefore, the best way to be a good diversity coach to your children is to realise and correct your own biases and prejudices, so that you can be a good role model.
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