Each of us is unique -- from our interests and abilities to our religious and cultural backgrounds. And, as our world becomes intensely interconnected, fostering acceptance of all differences is more important than ever. Exposing children to diversity is a crucial building block, but helping them embrace their own uniqueness is just as vital.
When we teach kids to respect and celebrate their individuality, they do the same for others. After all, bullying is a form of intolerance and often stems from feelings of insecurity.
How can you help your children accept and appreciate the many differences that surround them? Try these practical strategies:
Broadening your child's frame of reference helps turn what might otherwise seem "different" to just "normal." A simple and fun way to explore a variety of cultures is through food. Eating out at international restaurants is one option, and creating a regular family event by cooking different ethnic dishes at home and talking about the various countries or cultures will make the experience all the more poignant.
Why not start with your own heritage? This will highlight that our very own families are often a patchwork of cultures.
Help your child learn discernment (noticing differences) rather than judgment (evaluating the differences). If your child makes a comment about someone that seems disparaging, use that as a talking point to ask questions such as "How do you think he would feel if he heard you say that? How would you feel if someone said that about you?" Posing open-ended questions prompts a child to think beyond a visceral reaction and develop empathy and an intrinsic acceptance of differences.
The other day when I was flipping through a magazine, I inadvertently asked out loud "What is she wearing?" I glanced over to my two daughters, who were practically drooling to see whose outfit I was criticizing. The takeaway? Even seemingly harmless comments can teach our children intolerance. I quickly shared my thoughts with my girls: "You know what? That wasn't very nice of me to say. People have different styles." We then had a discussion about the fact that if everyone was the same, this would be a rather boring world.
Use these movies and books to help your kids flex their openmindedness muscle: