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How to help kids to embrace diversity

As families prepare for varied holiday traditions, now is the perfect time for parents, teachers and carers to encourage children to celebrate diversity.

There is nothing like the festive season to demonstrate how wonderfully diverse Australian society is. Over the Christmas and new year period, we have the privilege of witnessing and learning about myriad traditions and beliefs – from religious observances and spiritual practices to different interpretations of Santa Claus and multicultural holiday foods. However, for children, such diversity of practices, beliefs and experiences may be confusing. Some children may express this confusion through comments about others’ differences, such as ‘Your skin’s a funny colour’ or ‘Your lunch smells weird’. 

While such comments may sound judgmental or discriminatory, they’re usually innocent quests to make sense of what is unfamiliar against their own experience. That is, they reflect children’s innate curiosity and thirst for learning. In fact, the Christmas period is the perfect opportunity to help children to appreciate and respect cultural diversity. With families partaking of a range of holiday traditions, adults can use differing practices to model curiosity and acceptance and encourage kids to be curious about, and celebrate, differences. Not only does cultivating curiosity about, and appreciation of, difference help to foster social cohesion and support others’ sense of inclusion and self-worth, it also contributes to children’s own self-worth and ability to develop and celebrate themselves as wonderful, unique individuals.

If you’re a parent, carer or teacher, try incorporating these practices into modelling and activities. It will not only foster inclusiveness and social cohesion, but promote your child’s own ability to celebrate their individuality. 

  1.  Expand children’s worlds and perspectives through exposure to diversity. Consider visiting exhibitions showcasing photos or artefacts from other cultures. Choose movies that introduce unfamiliar places, ethnicities and cultural practices. Introduce children to diverse cuisines and encourage exploration through food. Favour picture books with diverse racial representations. If you’re able to, travel.

  2. Encourage children to celebrate difference. Promote recognition and appreciation of people for the things that make them unique and encourage kids to view difference as something that makes a person interesting. If children critique a person’s differences, help to shift their perspective by suggesting something positive about that difference.

  3. Support interpersonal skills. Encourage activities and communication practices that enable kids to form positive friendships regardless of differences in language, appearance and cultural practices (or indeed physical or mental abilities). Model healthy communication practices and try to focus on inclusive language. While children’s friendship choices are their own, encourage them to include ‘different’ others in games, play dates and birthday parties.

For great resources to encourage children’s appreciation of diversity, check out the Be You website, an initiative of Beyond Blue. Of course, our child psychologists would love to answer your questions in comments or on our Instagram

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