Children have no inhibitions at all which is great but sometimes they are capable of saying something that can embarrass the parents. Like at the playground or in a crowded train, children quite loudly remark – “why is this person so dark or why is she not able to walk or why is he not able to talk?” The immediate reaction of the parent is to ask them to be quite and to change the topic as quickly as possible. They don’t say this with any wrong intention it is just a curious observation.
Children wouldn’t blurt out their raw thoughts if they were exposed to the diversity in our society. Looking at the various global events, the outpour of emotions and reactions to the situation in USA clearly underlines that somewhere as a society we haven’t made everyone aware and accept the diversity. As parents we have a new challenge in front of us, to raise open-minded global citizens of the future. Here are a few pointers to what you can do as a parent or as an educator-
Notice and Acknowledge the differences
We need to realize that young children are keen observers and they are only noticing the differences. Differences in physical appearance, behaviour, social status than their own and what they are used to seeing in their immediate social circle. Instead of brushing away these uncomfortable questions , we should acknowledge these differences. We should give age appropriate answers to these questions. For example, the differences in skin colour are due to the chemical melanin in our skin. Those who have less melanin have light coloured skin and those who have more melanin have dark coloured skin.
Instead of talking about race – white/brown/black/Chinese with a child raised in Mumbai who has never seen or experienced these differences we should talk about the differences and diversity of people. The easiest way to do this is to expose children through books and stories. Check your children’s books- do they feature people of various colour, religion, cultures, family types as main characters? Are they written by authors from around the world? Do any books include people with disabilities or differently-abled characters? We should have some books in our collection that highlight the diversity.
Teach them Empathy
Empathy is one of the most important social skills that children can develop . Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone’s place and understand how they feel. This helps children to connect with others as well as think of ways to take an action to make the other person feel better. However teaching children this skill is very complex. This is a long process which might take a few years. Especially for children below 6 years are naturally egocentric, meaning they think the world works from their perspective only. In such case, empathy is most difficult to teach, but there are ways. There is a detailed article here that talks about a strategy to teach empathy, check it out https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/5-how-to-help-your-child-develop-empathy
Expose them to different Cultures
As we become more global, it is even more important for children to be aware and proud of their own roots so as not to loose their identity as they grow up. This is why there is a strong focus on celebration of festivals and various cultures in Early Childhood programs. Children should first be exposed to their own local culture, then others from their country, continent and then other continents. This gives them the opportunity to be more receptive of those who don’t look or talk like them and learn to celebrate the diversity while being still being secure in their own identity.
Be the Role Model
Children in the age group from birth to six years have an absorbent mind. And they absorb everything they see, without filter, they take in the good and the bad. The reasoning powers and sense of right/wrong only develops after 6. But by that time their behaviour might already be formed. So it is our responsibility as the adults to actively model all the above qualities for our children.