Explaining Differences and Diversity to Our Young Children

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It’s easy to see the differences between ourselves and others, but it’s harder to make sense of and appreciate those differences. How can we explain life changes and the value of diversity to our growing children? How can we teach them about being compassionate and sensitive when noticing the physical differences in someone who right away looks alarmingly different in their eyes? As a mom and a nanny I had to prepare myself to deal with such topics, with my children. It was important to me that they learned from an early age the importance of appreciating themselves as well as respecting others. While it’s imperative to allow our children to grow and explore at their own pace, it’s also important to introduce certain topics and teach them appropriate behaviors. This training should be done from an early age.

I remember having an encounter with my daughter when she was 7 years old. We were heading into town. There, she saw a little boy in a wheelchair. She immediately pointed at him and loudly asked, “Mommy why is he in that chair?” While I understood her curiosity and innocence, I felt horrible. I apologized to the boy’s mother then sat my daughter down and explained to her why the little boy was in a wheelchair. I also discussed with her the importance of being thoughtful of someone else’s feelings.

At some point your child will have an encounter with a child or an adult who appears different. As a result, more than likely, your child will have questions. Having a discussion with your child, explaining that no two people are the same and that everyone is unique in his/her own way is a great place to start. Also, explaining that it’s not polite to stare or point can be a good lesson to teach your young and curious child. It’s also good to encourage the dialogue with them whenever they have a question or are confused by what they see or hear.

I also recall having a similar encounter another time; it was with my twin girls that I cared for. One day out of the blue, Emma walked up to me and said, “Reea you have dark skin and I have white skin.” Her twin sister chimed in innocently and asked, “Reea why is your skin darker than ours?” I really didn’t know how to feel or what to think about their inquiry. Perhaps it was because they were just innocent little girls who only saw me as their “Reea” – nothing more, nothing less. So when they posed that question and curiously waited for an answer, I explained to them as best as I could about melanin and how it works.

I later realized that my answer simply wasn’t enough; the girls were at the stage where children development of racial, cultural, identity and attitude awareness had started peaking. That week I observed as the girls spent most of their time observing, comparing, and discussing the differences between the skin tones of their family, friends and strangers. Mind you, they were about 3 ½ years old at the time. I took the opportunity to make their discovery about themselves and others an educational one. I spent the following week doing activities with them, exposing them to cultural differences as well as exploring the different types of skin colors.

I would like to share a few activities with you to help you speak to your young child about diversity, different skin colors, and physical difference in others.

Activity #1: Do an experiment with your child using the primary colors red, yellow, and blue along with the color white. Note: You can also purchase or Google “skin color chart” to use for comparison. Use this time to further explore the proper names for the different skin tone with your child. Start by helping them identify their skin color as you blend the colors together as well as yours. You can even draw a picture of a person and color it in using the skin tone colors you’ve created. This activity would help your young child learn and appreciate the many different types of skin colors. In addition, they would learn how to reference it.

Recommended Book:
The Color of Us by Karen Katz.

Activity # 2: I came across this activity on the internet as I searched for ways to teach my kids about everyone being the same, even though we look different. With the use of a plate, two eggs (one white, the other brown), you can do a simple but very effective activity with your child called We Are All the Same on the Inside Egg Activity. Create a dialogue with your child by asking questions such as; what do you think the inside of the egg would look like?  Would it be brown or white as the shell? As you begin cracking open the eggs the child will observe that both eggs look exactly the same on the inside; having two bright yellow yolks, despite the fact that on the outside it looked different. You can also use this time to further explore this topic in more depth, depending on the child’s age.

Recommended Books:
Why I Am Different by Norma Simon

Activity #3: Take your child to the local bookstore or library to purchase or rent a children’s book about children with disabilities or special needs. Explain to your child that a child with a disability enjoys doing all the things they like such as making new friends, playing, laughing, eating ice cream, watching TV, etc. However, sometimes they do it in a different way.

Activity #4: Have your child try doing different activities using one hand such as tying their shoes, getting dressed, or even going to the bathroom. Discuss with your child the challenges they faced, how it made them feel, and ways they can try to possibly work around their limitations.

Recommended Children Books:
Special People Special Ways by Arlene Maguire

As you can see, there are many fun and educational activities that you can do with your child whether you’re a mom, dad, grand-parent, caregiver, or teacher.

Other tips on ways to help your child understand and learn about diversity and differences:

  • Purchase a globe, map, or a puzzle that focuses on different countries. Select a country and discuss with your child the culture, food, music etc.
  • Expose your kids to new cuisine. Take them to different restaurants in your neighborhood and order different types of food (i.e.Indian dish, African American dish, Asian, etc.
  • Visit free local cultural events in your communities.
  • Be true to yourself and your kids. Kids observe and practice what they see or hear most of the time. Stand up for what is right so your kids can learn from you.

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4 Comments

  1. Irene Zoog on September 9, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog –As a 65-year-old grandma (Mum-Z) I would have enjoyed reading your blog back when my children were young. I love the brown and white egg comparison. Such an easy and simple way to show young toddlers how much we are so alike. I carry in my purse to remind myself and to tell my grandchildren that you could learn a lot from Crayons, some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some have weird names and all are different colors, but they all have to learn to live in the same box !
    I believe I can still learn from you Ms. Reea. Keep me informed so I can be a better Mum-Z.
    PS- my grandchildren are the upcoming generation of which I hope will be a better generation than the past. 😊👍🏻

  2. Susan Goldstein on September 10, 2016 at 11:25 am

    How wonderful it is that the insight you have acquired into the minds and hearts of children has been set in motion as a result of the wonderful books you have written . As a grandma of five I can understand how the wisdom of your experience, incorporated into your stories, will provide both delightful entertainment and lessons to be learned for children everywhere. Your blog is such positive reinforcement …. Bravo REEA!!

  3. Peron Johnson on September 13, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Go Girl! Your work is a true inspiration to me. It clearly demonstrates that the only limits there is are the ones we for set ourselves.
    I pray that God will continue to bless your good works and lead same to sustained prosperity.
    PJ

  4. Keri Hammer on September 14, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Reea – thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge for dealing with these important life lessons! I know you’ll have many more blog posts that will be very insightful and helpful to other care-givers, parents and teachers. All “your kids” (including mine) are better people for having you in their lives.

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