Raising Children to Embrace Cultural Diversity
How can parents best prepare their children to live in an increasingly diverse world? Learn how to raise your kids to celebrate and value other people and cultures—and have fun doing it!
In an ever-changing world filled with a diversity of people and cultures, part of our roles as parents is to prepare our children to understand and respect different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. “Our children live in a global environment,” says Joan LeFebvre, University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Educator. “We’re all so connected and we need to prepare kids … to be nonjudgmental about other people, to be willing to learn and be appreciating.”
In her article “Teaching Preschoolers How to Resist Bias,” LeFebvre says children have a natural and healthy curiosity about differences in people. “During the preschool years, children are developing their own self-identity and their ideas about others. They are learning that they are like other people in many ways and different in others,” she says. “What children learn during the preschool years can help them to form strong, positive self-concepts and to grow up to respect and interact comfortably with people different from themselves.”
As part of this learning experience, children will watch their parents. They are quick to notice how their moms and dads interact with and react to people and situations. So, it is crucial that adults lead by example when talking to or about people of varying ethnicities.
According to LeFebvre, children as young as two years begin to notice differences in gender, race and ethnicity. “They are open to both the positive and negative attitudes their families and society have toward these differences,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important for parents and teachers to show their young children how to value, accept and comfortably interact with diverse people.”
Although some people are reluctant to acknowledge we live in a biased society, it is important that parents not deny differences between people by telling children “all people are the same,” says LeFebvre. Properly addressing children’s natural curiosities demonstrates that cultural differences don’t make any one child better than another; stress that what’s important about a person is what’s on the inside.
Julie, a mother of two from Raleigh, North Carolina, has enrolled her seven-year-old son Andrew at Wiley International in Raleigh, a unique public school that teaches five foreign languages and integrates cultural studies into the traditional school curriculum.
“…We felt [this school] would be a great experience to expose him to a larger variety of people from different cultures and languages,” says Julie. She says every year the school selects two countries to study, and focuses on language, culture, clothing, foods, etc. from those countries. They also host an international night during which everyone from the school brings a dish native to where they are from, and the kids perform for parents.
Julie says Andrew, who is learning German and Japanese, and has studied world flags, holidays, and international cooking, enjoys his school and better appreciates people as individuals rather than as belonging to racial or ethnic groups. “I think the exposure he has received has had a positive effect on him,” says Julie. “He knows that he can learn from our differences, and not judge people because of them.”
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