‘Mom I won’t be playing with Maya anymore,’ quipped my kid of 6 years.

‘Hmm.. Did you have a fight with her,’ I asked disinterested?

‘No, Mona says she doesn’t like playing with dark skinned people and as Mona is my best friend, I will have to let go of Maya’

I was jolted by this statement. It made me sit straight and a thousand thoughts were cruising through my head, but I was speechless. I just didn’t know how and what to say to this.

I managed to say ‘ That’s not a fair argument and Maya was your first friend when we came to live here, so ditching her for someone else is just not right. We will talk about this soon as I need to finish something before that.’

I knew Mona’s family and I didn’t think they would discriminate based on skin color. I also realized that I had to talk about diversity first, to explain the ills of discrimination.

What does diversity mean?

I was looking for a simple explanation for diversity. That is when I came across it on Queensborough community college “It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.”

Diversity in the context of India and the World

India is a diverse country. No other country can boast of so much diversity in language, food and culture. Diversity is also in terms of the way we look. While people down south, by reason of being closer to the equator have a darker skin color, the people up north are fairer or brown. Similarly the people living on the East of India have a different facial structure. But how do I start with explaining this to my daughter?

As #BlackLivesMatter movement rages on in America, I also realized that I need to explain the discrimination based on this diversity and the ills of it.

I discussed this with other moms I knew and took the help of all might Google! The first thing I realized was that I am not alone in this. Kids don’t even realize they are discriminating against someone and are hurting others in the process.

Explaining diversity to a child

One of the parents I connected with, Surabhi Ashk had an interesting anecdote to share “It was the summer of 2018 when my family visited Lansdowne, a town in Pauri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand ,India. On the very first evening, we visited Bhullatal lake, a place known for its attractions like boating and ducks in the lake. The spot was a fusion of different cultures. It was a calm and serene place. All of a sudden a loud noise grabbed everyone’s attention. The source of the sound was a quarrel among kids over the breaking of the sandcastle of a little girl. There was an exchange of heated words in a different dialect. I could not understand the meaning of the spoken words but could make out from facial expressions and body language of children. However, with the intervention of adults, the kids were eased and the environment was restored to normalcy. It was an experience beyond my culture and that I could make out from the bewildered faces of my kiddos. They bombarded me with expected questions “What was the girl speaking? Could you understand that Mumma? Why did she look so different?” and so on…

I understood that time was ripe for an open discussion on diversity. I started decoding in a structured format adopting small measures one at a time.

So, the next question was

How do we explain diversity to children?

So for this, I connected with a cousin of mine who is MS in Psychotherapy and counseling – Rashmi Patwardhan.  She says “If you observe young children carefully, they are like tiny sponges, absorbing everything from their surroundings. Diversity in all forms is vital for the wholesome development of their personality.

Here are some tips to teach diversity in fun ways. Always remember, make it as relatable as possible and tweak according to their interests.

1. Introducing foods from different culture.

Kids can be fussy eaters- which is a perfect time for you to introduce fun foods from different cultures. Additionally, you can engage them in conversations regarding that culture.

2. Point out beauty in diversity

This is especially helpful if the child has already picked up bias from other children. Point out how boring and mundane it’d be if they all had to wear the same clothes, eat the same food etc. If they are unable to imagine turn this into an activity and see how that goes.

3. Encourage them to make friends from different backgrounds – this is self-explanatory!
4. Celebrating or participating in holidays that you may not be celebrating.

Joy is infectious! Celebration and having fun is something all children love. Example -Just look at how many new year celebrations are held just in India

Note – We have all grown up with certain biases and stereotypes since childhood too. Therefore it’s important to make sure, that we have not held on to certain biases before we teach children. Always remember, children, learn more from your body language and behavior than your words.”

These were some great tips and I felt better prepared to talk to my daughter about diversity and explain her about it.

Adding to this Surabhi shared that based on the earlier incident, she shared some more tips to teach diversity to children

Show children illustrations of people of different cultures, making them familiar with their food habits, dresses, skin color variation, and at the same time explaining how we are all part of the same world even though living in different geographical locations.

Share tips with children about initiating a conversation with people of other cultures by understanding their body language- includes face and hand gestures

Encourage children to mingle with children of diverse cultures by greeting them with a smile, sharing things with them, helping them, respecting them. At the same time I also explained to them that mocking others based on some distinction in their culture is not a cool thing to do.  

Make children tolerant towards diverse cultures-through storytelling sessions, brief documentaries and narratives.

These points brought me back to my original question

How to make children realize the ills of discrimination?

After doing some more digging, I found some good resources on YouTube that talked about discrimination and why we look different. I first explained to my daughter about diversity and how we all are the same though we might look different. Then I went ahead and showed her these videos.

After seeing the videos, I asked my daughter to think again about her decision to not play with Maya. The kiddo had already realized her mistake and said that she would be explaining this to Mona!

It also made me realize that I need to reinforce the diversity aspect every time we travel. I will also be making it a point to get books from diverse cultures to reinforce the idea of diversity. Seeing and realizing that all are still the same will have a bigger impact on them.

That was our lesson in diversity for me and my kids. What about you? How do you explain diversity to your children and more importantly how do you tell them it isn’t good to discriminate based on our diversity?

17 Replies to “How to explain diversity to children”

  1. Such a tough topic to explain to kids! But it is better to explain it to them when they are still young and not adults who have formed strong likes and dislikes. You have shared some great pointers, Neha and following them should make explaining easier for parents.

  2. Explaining diversity to the kids is very important today. If they are comfortable with other cultures, their customs then it is better for them.
    Here, my kids have friends from all around the world in their class. Today they are comfortable in talking to an Indian and someone from a different country as well.

  3. This is a topic close to my heart. I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where diversity not only existed but was also accepted. In the current scenario, your post is the need of the hour.

  4. Children do understand diversity when different festivals are celebrated in school and/or discussed about at home. It is important to communicate them these things at a young age so that they aren’t prejudiced by peers.

  5. This is such an important topic to discuss with kids from a young age. Thanks for sharing these pointers to explain diversity to children in an easy way. These are really helpful to start the conversation.

  6. Yes! You are right. Every human being is unique in their own way. One should accept,respect and teach their children to don’t discrimination at the basis of colour, caste and sexual orientation etc.Those videos are so effective.

  7. Making kids understand the term and real meaning of diversity is really important and I totally agree that we need to discuss and tell them since a young age!!

  8. Agree that the movement blacklifematters make us think that we should learn how to live and accept the diversity. And making kids understand the diversity is very important

  9. Well-explained. We got to start explaining the idea of diversity to kids from a very young age before they internalize any stereotypes. Books and stories are a great way for young kids.

  10. It’s a challenge to explain diversity to children, especially to young children. Having said that, sensitising children about race and colour should be taken seriously.

  11. Such an important subject Neha. Kids need to be raised in a more sensitive manner so that they accept others the way the are. And teaching them about the diverse culture, food, clothing and looks matters a lot for them to be a good individual.

  12. This is such an important topic. You have explained a difficult subject in a way that can be actioned and incorporated! Definitely the only way to build a better and kinder future is to explain diversity to children and have them embrace it!

  13. This is really important topic to discuss and explain to kids at the right time I am saving this for my daughter as she is small at this time to understand

  14. Children learn from what they see around. Its necessary to make them aware of a lot of things from the beginning. I remember my child laughing at a transgender man and asking me why he was dressed as a woman. I made the 4 yr old realize that we live in a world made of different people who has the right to dress up the way they want to and we should not make fun of that. She immediately realized.

  15. Again this is a very important topic to discuss on Neha I really like the way you pick up such crucial topics to explain and elaborate to the kids talking about diversity to them is important they should rather learn from reliable sources than assuming and creating their own assumptions

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