Diversity: Let’s make our children see what’s beyond ours!

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The company I work for was chosen one among the 50 Best Companies for Diversity last year. It indeed felt warm reading the announcement because despite the employees diversity, respect and kindness have always been at the core of our everyday work lives. Or perhaps:

It could be ‘because’ of the diversity, and not ‘despite’ the diversity!

Since then I have been contemplating if diversity can play a role in establishing social equality. And, how would diversity influence children? Is there something we can do about fostering diversity for them?

Let’s discuss!

D – Diversity: Let’s make our children see what’s beyond ours!

Post #4 of the series: Instilling Social Equality in Children

Why diversity?

It is quite common for many in our generation to have moved out of our regional places we were raised from to other places or countries for work or education. Observing different cultures, learning new languages, and meeting people of different appearances, attitudes, and habits have all influenced our lives in some ways.

If you had to go back to that point in life where you made that first move, and imagine that you had not moved out but continued to live where you were, how different a person you would have become from what you are now?

If the diversity you were exposed to later in life had happened in your childhood, what difference do you think it would have made?

When time permits, answer these questions for yourself. The realizations that come along can be interesting. And your answers shall tell you what ‘diversity’ can do to one’s personal growth. 

What do we mean by diversity for children?

It’s simply giving them an opportunity to see beyond what they normally see within their home, neighbourhood, or community. Most importantly, it’s about allowing them to explore differences under a safe roof. If your neighbour children belong to a different religion than yours and if you were to limit your children from socializing with them solely because of your perceptions about the religion, then you are confining your children’s experiences. Diversity involves taking them to the rim of your well to show them what lies outside your well instead of pretending to them that your well is all that the world is made of.

Can diversity dilute differences?

I am not sure if we can have a direct answer to this question. However, diversity can let children know that first of all, there are differences.

We relocated to another state last year. During the first few days at his new school, the boy felt it was not fair that he is not able to be a part of his classmates’ conversations because he could not understand the language they were speaking. Over time he began to get settled with the fact that people can speak different languages and if he wants to be a part of their conversation then he will need to learn that language.

I think this is the best that diversity can do to children. That, first of all, to accept that differences exist and then learn to choose if they should adapt to or stay aloof from what they feel different is. In other words, diversity might not necessarily dilute the differences, but shall give them the maturity to co-exist despite the differences.

How do we introduce diversity to children?

There’s no one way to it. Parents can be as creative as they can. Apart from allowing them (with safety in priority) to interact with diverse groups of people, we can:

  • Show them books on diversity

Books can be a great start even from the infant years! When they visually see pictures of children of different skin colours in books and when they see someone in the same skin colour in real life, it is going to seem normal to them. When they read about a child using crutches for walking, they will get the input that some people cannot walk normally and that it’s normal.

Here are some examples of books that can introduce diversity to children: Rainbows Girls and Rainbow Boys

  • Travel far and wide with them

Traveling with kids could be a natural way to make them see varieties in lifestyles. When life permits, travel on the road, to the mountains, in second class trains, in local buses, in autos; make them stand in queues to buy tickets, make them try local cuisines, make them see outside of the gadgets into the real world – wherever diversity exists!

  • Share our experiences

Before I began the series, I had some interactions on the topic with friends and here’s a note a friend had shared  :

“I was brought up in Dehradun culture. We spoke Hindi even at home. But dad insisted we learn Tamil when family came to visit. When I was eight we came to Hyderabad and were totally surrounded by Muslims. Mom and dad had a very mixed group of friends because we grew up away from our hometown. Growing up we had Bihari, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Gujrati, and Hindi speaking people. So we would go for Durga Pooja, as much we enjoyed Ramadan in hyd.”

How does it feel to read this, to imagine a multi-cultural childhood? When children listen to such stories, without doubt, their imagination will take them to far-off lands, people, and cultures. Talk to them about another country or place you have visited, the climate, food, clothes, architecture, and its history. Talk about incidents that stand out in your memory – an incident of kindness, survival, struggle – that you had experienced with people at a new place. Talk to them about how seemingly different people and culture can actually have common beliefs and values. Talk to them about the differences they might not get an opportunity to see otherwise. Sharing stories of diversities to children can inspire them to experience the same.

  • Give appropriate answers to their questions

When children notice differences in other people, they might come to you with their questions. Your answers are critical for that’s what will build their notions about the differences they discover.

When your child asks: “Why is that girl wearing a scarf on her head?”

What would you answer: “That’s a part of a tradition” or “Those people are like that.”

When your child asks: “Why does that boy make a weird sound all the time?”

What would you answer: “He is facing some challenges in growing up.” or “He is a mental.”

When your child asks: “How do they eat that yucky thing on their plate?”

What would you answer: “For them it’s their regular food like how we have dosa and rice.” or “They are horrible people. We cannot imagine eating such stuff.”

Unintentionally we might have given answers of the second kind. But if we realized the message we were sending across with such answers, we might want to choose a better way to answer like the first ones.

Such trivial everyday conversations are where parents can make a difference. Let’s choose what is right!

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