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Teaching our Children to Champion Diversity: It All Begins at Home

With utter delight, pure innocence and genuine curiosity, one of my 5-year-old students once asked me if my skin was made of chocolate. My immediate thought was how awesome that would be, before I smiled and tried to explain to him, to the best of my ability, why I looked different from him. It dawned on me that this may have been a question on his mind from the day I first walked into his classroom months before, but I had never seen it impact how he treated me:  with complete respect, love, and kindness.

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For many parents, talking with their children about the realities of race, diversity, equity, and inclusion is a disturbing prospect.  These conversations are rarely easy; it is difficult to delicately address these topics while simultaneously protecting a child’s innocence. Where do I start? How far should the conversation go? Is it too much for them to handle? The truth is that oftentimes our children are not naïve to the current realities of our world and by ignoring the systemic racism around them and altogether avoiding the conversations, we run the risk of teaching them to overlook and accept injustices. This can perpetuate the behaviors that have led to the misguided belief that their lives matter more or less than others.

The global pandemic has added “homeschool teacher” to the list of hats that parents wear and has provided an (additional) opportunity to directly and indirectly address the elephant in the room. While teaching children to be compassionate, tolerant, and empathetic is not the complete antidote to racism, it is a start. We have a collective responsibility to teach tolerance, kindness and respect, and parents can help their children value and appreciate diversity in everyday experiences. It will take time and a concerted effort to undo learnt behaviors and unconscious biases, especially considering that our own children are not immune to the profound and widespread effects of racism.  Below are three ideas to jumpstart our work with them: 

1. Speak openly and embrace their curiosity: We may not have all of the answers, but an honest conversation about their observations and experiences can pave the way for your children to feel more comfortable to ask questions about race and diversity. Be careful not to ignore or discourage questions about differences among people and try to answer their questions in an age appropriate way. Parents can even proactively initiate the dialogue by asking children what they think about certain issues.

 2. Lead by example: Action speaks louder than words, and we have to be mindful of both our verbal and non-verbal expressions. Children need examples of others who are open and accepting of differences, because they are heavily influenced by the behaviors of the adults around them. Parents, be mindful of how you treat and discuss others as this can cause your children to develop generalized perceptions and stereotypes that determine their reaction and attitude towards different groups of people.

3. Challenge intolerance: If your child says or does something indicating bias or prejudice, don’t meet the action with silence. Beyond correcting unacceptable behavior from our children and making teachable moments of real-life situations by discussing current affairs, let us connect the conversations to the change you and your child want to see, and to ways in which we can actively contribute to bringing about that change.

UNICEF also has a number of resources, including a guide on how to start the important conversation and keep it going which is available here https://www.unicef.org/parenting/talking-to-your-kids-about-racism

It takes a village and as parents and educators, we all have a role to play in proactively combating the biases that keep our children from approaching life from the same starting line.

This blog is written by Tasmaine Coleman, GET Admissions Administrator for The Americas.