"Why does that lady walk funny?”
“Look at that man!"
“What’s on his face? "
If you have kids, you have likely been mildly embarrassed by their blatant public observations of others, and, possibly, have stumbled over what to say in such moments. Talking about diversity and disabilities with children can be a challenge but is an essential part of their emotional development.
The human brain is an incredible code breaking instrument, we naturally look for patterns and anomalies to create and edit our impression of the world and, from an early age, children are seeking to make sense of the human condition. They are trying to come up with a definition and a set of guiding principles about how to conduct themselves and where they fit into the equation. When a child is solely exposed to individuals that are similar to themselves, they develop a somewhat narrow view of mankind, however, interacting with a diverse group of people can enrich a child’s environment and set them up to be more emotionally attuned as adults. Exposing children to various cultures and lifestyles will help them develop greater empathy and open-mindedness.
It is difficult having a conversation with children about why someone is different, however, if we have this conversation early and at home first it makes interactions in public much easier. A good way to start such conversations is with this week’s video about color blindness. Then, talk about your own strengths and weaknesses and ask your kids what they feel really confident in and what are somethings they need help with, this is a great way to build self esteem. Point out that everyone is unique and this is what makes the world such a great place.
Some other resources for discussing diversity:
1) Books about various cultures or ways of life: simply being exposed to the stories of others is a powerful tool.
2) Museums: talk about what it would be like to live in a different time period or location. Developing the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes is a skill that must be practiced.
3) Festivals: Let kids ask you questions. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone! Children love to see adults learning too.
4) Listen to music or try food from another country.
The important thing is that we have these experiences with our children and engage them in an honest and open conversation about how there are so many wonderful and unique people in the world.