Metzler suggests that once kids start to comment about differences they notice in others, that parents listen to the language they use. If your child uses hurtful words, discuss why they're hurtful. Explain, according to their age, why stereotypes don't tell the whole story and can be divisive.
External messages play an enormous role in how kids view others. Their impressions, explains Metzler, "are acquired by absorbing societal messages from the media, literature, toys and their surroundings, even in the absence of contact or parental instruction."
Because children watch and listen, Metzler suggests parent examine their own "diversity deficits." Look around your neighborhood, your community and your interactions with others. How often does your family interact with people who are not like you?
Growing up, my parents regularly exposed my siblings and me to artifacts, ideas and foods from other countries, the result of their travels all over the world. They were so excited to explore other cultures that by default, so was I. In our home "different" meant interesting -- not scary.
Encouraging my (now) teen daughter to honor "others," to be open-minded about people who look, act or think differently than she does is central to our family beliefs. We embrace diversity across culture, race, ethnicity, religion, capability and sexual preference.
Although people often strive to be politically correct Metzler cautions that they should not teach kids to be "difference blind." Instead, acknowledge the obvious when kids ask, then be sensitive to the messages you attach.
Metzler says as much as people throw the term diversity around, we still live in largely homogenous communities.
Here are a few ways to encourage cultural awareness and inclusion messaging in your family:
Metzler encourages parents not to just go through the motions. "It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn about differences from a voyeuristic point of view, " he says. "Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives."
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