The ability to understand and respect another person’s background and perspective is the foundation of all human interaction, and it is one of the most essential social skills that a child can have. Our global world calls for more tolerance, a slower rush to judgment, and better ways to handle conflict when dealing with others. As society becomes more diverse, your child may be exposed to more people from different backgrounds, and it is crucial to talk to him about respecting differences, and the value of diversity.
Teach your child about diversity. Discuss the differences among your family and friends, and use the opportunity to explain how diversity makes the world a better place. To illustrate this further, talk to your child about a new classmate, or at least an unfamiliar one. Ask him to share three differences and similarities between himself and the classmate. Use this as a springboard to explain that people who are seemingly different often have a great deal in common or how people who seem the same on the outside can be very different in their experiences. Remind him about the importance of getting to know people beyond the way they look, talk or act, and let him know that if he respects differences and similarities, he will learn a lot from others.
Encourage your child to participate in activities that promote diversity and nurture tolerance. Sign him up for summer camp, an art workshop or a peer program that includes people from different backgrounds and abilities. For example, there are many programs out there that allow children with or without special needs to become “buddies.” This can be a great win-win for both children. Help your child find the courage to become friends with others who are different. At this age, you usually have to open the door of acceptance if you want your child to go through it.
Use games and books to teach your child about respecting differences. Educational psychologist Michele Borba suggests that exposing your child to literature, games or toys that represent a wide range of multicultural groups and abilities will help boost his appreciation and acceptance for differences. Some examples of this are Families by Susan Kuklin, a book that covers racial diversity, religious diversity, single-parent and two-mom or two-dad families, and A Bad Case of the Stripes, by David Shannon, which is about a little girl embracing her differences. It is also good to read books where difference is not the focus, so that he can see that many people share the same feelings and needs. Showing your child examples of people who are different from him as main characters allows him to gain a better understanding of how all children go through similar problems. Make sure to include materials from your own culture and heritage, as this will help your child gain a sense of pride about his own identity.