Children become aware of the positive attitudes and biases held by family and friends at an early age. Between the ages of two and five, children become aware of gender, race, ethnicity and disabilities. This is also a time when children begin to understand how some comments can hurt the feelings of others. Children need to learn to respect the differences of others and to celebrate the diversity they see among themselves.
HOW CAN CAREGIVERS HELP?
– Help children feel good about themselves. Putting others down “hurts” others and does not help children feel better about themselves. Talk positively about each child’s physical characteristics and cultural heritage. Be firm in your rules. A person’s identity is never an acceptable reason for teasing or rejecting them.
– Talk about “stereotypes.” Ideas and assumptions made about people because of the group to which they belong are stereotypes. Sometimes people think that others who aren’t part of their group are not as good as they are simply because they are different. This is called prejudice.
– Talk about how unfair stereotypes are. Teach children to recognize and challenge stereotypes and caricatures of different groups. Ask children how they feel when someone calls them a name. Remind them that all people have feelings. Research confirms that you can help a child learn empathy for others by pointing out how the child’s actions make others feel. For example, “When you call Maria that name, it makes her feel bad.”
– Encourage children to see strengths in others. Comment on Maya’s skill on the computer or Hector’s ability to write well.
– Discuss any racial/hurtful incidents that happen in your program. Do not make any child feel bad if the situation was not handled well. Let the child try to find solutions. Suggest a number of positive ways for the child to deal with these incidents. Use these opportunities to expand the child’s awareness and knowledge.
– Encourage children to celebrate diversity. Enjoyment can be found in ethnic celebrations, music, art, food, and dance. Give children a chance to learn more about these diverse heritages as well as about their own.
– Act as a role model. Help children see that you value diversity and that you are open to others, whatever their race, religion, sex, age, or disability. Let children know that unjust things such as racism and sexism can be changed. Help children see that it takes personal strength to participate in the struggle to eliminate racism.
Derman-Sparks, L., Higa, C., & Sparks, B. (1980). Children, race and racism: How race awareness develops. *Interracial Books for Children, Bulletin*, 11(3&4).
Derman-Sparks, L. (1985). How well are we nurturing racial and ethnic diversity. *CSAC Review*, 4(2).
Celebrating our differences. (1985). R.T. Schofield (pub.) *School Age Notes*, 5(3).
Note: Article was originally published in PARENT STYLES: TIPS FOR BUSY PARENTS. (n.d.). 4-H School-age Child Care Program: University of California Cooperative Extension.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Horikoshi, W.C. (1993). Celebrating Diversity: Resisting bias. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Day care center connections*, 3(1), pp. 6p;7. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.