This one may seem obvious, but boy, can it be tricky. The fun stuff we do with our kids to introduce them to diversity (such as reading books & going to art museums) is just the beginning. In order for our kids to become truly culturally competent, they have to be able to analyze and synthesize all of the (often conflicting) information that they receive. Because along with the direct information that you, the parent/guardian/loved one/teacher, are sharing, your kids are also getting numerous subtle messages from society every day. Racial microaggressions, sexist advertising, school days off for only certain holidays, the list goes on and on. Messages are everywhere. So how do you help your child make sense of it all?
Point It Out: When you see these things happening, don't ignore them! Your child will notice your silence and may interpret it in a way that you did not intend. Your silence sends just as powerful a message as your words. Tell your child when you see discrimination, in any form, happening. Point it out so your child doesn't interpret certain behaviors and messages as "just the way things are".
Make the Connection: You've set a great foundation for your child by doing fun activities related to diversity. Now it's time to use those experiences. When you are pointing out things you see in society, connect what is happening to other experiences. Did your discussion in class about Black History Month leave some things out? What do you think CJ's Nana would think about this advertisement? Do your markers represent all of the people you see? Help your child see how to make sense of all of these different aspects of diversity awareness.
Be Honest! This is a big one - the most important by far. Don't sugarcoat things for your child. Don't represent the world in the way that you wish it was. I'm not saying that you should scare your child; it's important to be age-appropriate. But don't make it seem as if the world is different than it actually is. For example, we have a board book about Martin Luther King Jr. that I've been reading to my kids since they were little. The end of the book presents the world in a way that I always felt uncomfortable with - that all kids are completely equal. This felt too disingenuous and simplistic to me. So whenever I read the book, I always added a disclaimer - that while MLK certainly helped to make things better between the races, not everyone and everything is treated as completely equal (in age-appropriate language of course). As my kids have gotten older, this has led to some questions and great discussions about what that means. I'm convinced that it's helping to teach my children not just about society, but about empathy too.
So don't be scared to have those conversations! Discussions don't have to feel impossible. Start now and they will get easier! Have you started having discussions with your kids about diversity? How did you get started? If not, what will you do to get your first one rolling? Leave a comment below. I'll see you back here in a week for the next letter - E!
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Dr. Sweeney is a licensed school psychologist and cultural competence expert. Here are her musings on life in a multicultural world.
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