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Mental Health|21 November 2022

How to help your child learn to embrace differences and diversity

Written by Avantika Bahuguna
An ex-journalist and editor, Avantika Bahuguna is a popular mom influencer based in Mumbai with a decade of experience in parenting and community building. She has hosted 100 plus parenting sessions online and otherwise and was a co-host on the digital parenting show Nine Months that was telecast across Network 18 digital platforms and Voot.

It’s tricky raising kids especially when they reach an age when they have a hundred questions on their minds, which they definitely want answers for, come what may. I say it’s tricky because sometimes you have to touch on topics that can be really sensitive. Sex education for example is something that can be so difficult to explain in detail. I for once had a tough time answering all the questions that my daughter had, but, what mattered was that I answered all of them. 

Another topic that gets a little awkward to deal with is the subject of differences and diversity, more so when we usually have the narrative that we should treat everyone around us equally. Then how do you explain the concept of differences and diversity in your own way, without being insensitive and judgemental to our kids and making sure that we are not giving them the wrong explanations? And if you live in a country like India where religious beliefs and sentiments matter a lot, you have to be extremely mindful of what you say and have to be extremely careful when broaching the topic.

However, like it or not, as parents it is our duty to set the right context, give the best examples possible to our kids and try our best to introduce them to various concepts and beliefs that matter and they should be aware of.  In this article, we tell you about the simple ways of introducing the concept of differences and diversity in your kids

We are all same yet different: Why differences and diversity matter

Before we get on to things that we should do and ones that we should avoid, let’s first understand what exactly diversity and inclusion mean and why they should matter so much to you and your kids.

Embracing diversity means being able to accept and live happily with people belonging to not only different races, castes, colours, religions and creeds but also people having different opinions and living styles. 

Embracing differences and encouraging the habit of inclusion means promoting a sense of belonging and respect for people, in this case, kids, coming from different backgrounds, talents, learning styles and family histories. 

It stresses on encouraging and empowering all kids with the same learning styles and knowledge irrespective of where they come from. And, this in itself is the biggest reason parents, teachers and caregivers should know why diversity and inclusion matter.

Another strong reason is that talking openly and positively about diversity and differences helps kids to embrace and be empathetic with people around them and understand them better. 

Learning to adapt, adjust and embrace others around them helps children become better learners, improves their social skills and helps them be more compassionate adults. Once they have the knowledge they would be able to deal with people of different ethnicities, castes, cultures and races in a better manner and with better information. 

Here’s how parents can help kids embrace differences and diversity at home and around:

  • Be open to questions and give honest answers without beating around the bush. Listen without being judgemental and appreciate that your child has asked such a question to encourage them to come to you again with more questions.
  • Speak up and address any issue at that very moment when they notice a bias. Ask your child to do the same when in school. If you’re not sure about addressing the question at that very moment, take some time and tell your child that you will discuss this later when you’re more prepared.
  • Kids spend most of their time at school so it would also be a better idea to have an open discussion with educators and teachers to support the school’s efforts to embrace diversity and differences.
  • Expose them to different cultures, languages, music and world cinema of the world through YouTube videos, movies and music. Kids love watching videos and learning about different cultures through media and age-appropriate video content can be extremely useful. 
  • The best way to give your kids a lesson in diversity and differences is by travelling with them to different parts of the country, states, and regions and meeting with the locals over there, eating different cuisines and taking a heritage tour of the area. Your kids would love it and also come across so many different people around them. This would only broaden their horizons.
  • Lastly, brainstorm together and discuss together- how to embrace diversity and differences at a community level by involving other like-minded neighbours/friends and participating in community activities that inculcate learning and being with different people.

Expert tips for parents: Teaching your kids the values of inclusion and acceptance while embracing diversity

Counseling Psychologist, positive psychology practitioner and founder of happiness is love, Jyotika Bedi shares some expert tips to inculcate the values of inclusion and acceptance in kids while introducing them to the concept of diversity:

1. Look at your own self first- Kids often follow their parents’ footsteps, so if you want your kids to be accepting of all kinds of people, you need to check yourself out first. Do you mingle with others? Are you hesitant to meet and interact with people from a certain community, race or religion? The best way to foster inclusion and acceptance is by quashing stereotypes and judgements and that should start with you taking the lead.

2. Everyone is unique: Encourage your child to value individuality by reiterating that everyone is unique in their own way and might look in a certain and particular way which is their individuality and something that’s special about them.

3. Ask your child to reach out: It’s important for your child to reach out to other kids in their class and make them feel valued. Talk to your kids if they have come across any kids in their class who are bullied or made fun of. Or ones who are lonely or sitting alone in the classroom. Ask them to be empathetic towards them and talk to them often and share their thoughts with everyone else in the class. If it really bothers them a lot, ask them to take the teacher’s help to make sure that child feels safe and loved. 

4. Don’t ignore the tough topics: Differences make this world a better place and there is so much to learn from people from other religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. Tell your child that different people have different perspectives, values and ethics and this will introduce them to a different perspective of life altogether. When it comes to discussing, don’t ignore topics like religion and gender and be as open with them as possible. This will only make them more uncomfortable with the subject.

The most tried and tested way to learn about diversity is through the various children’s books that can be a great vehicle for exploring differences in culture, race, and ability.

5. Patience is key: Lastly, treat their questions normally and don’t be too judgemental of the questions they ask or things they would want to talk about, this would only make them uncomfortable. Remember, this is one of those discussions which would require a lot of patience, trust and understanding from your end. Being mindful can go a long way in raising kids that are accepting and socially responsible.

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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