"Today’s children will work with, go to school with, be friends with, live next door to, and form permanent relationships with people from cultures different from their own."
Anne Stonehouse: Opening The Doors, AECA.
Beginning school can be a stressful and exciting time for both parents and children.
As many children prepare to begin their school experience— with great gusto and enthusiasm— their parents often grapple with the realisation that it is time for their child to move into a formal learning environment. Their children are about to take on the challenge of being part of a large institution…an institution in which they will have to navigate new friendships, learn new social norms and rules, and become part of a school community with its own nuances and culturally diverse members.
The best tool that you—as a parent or carer—can use to support your child is to respect and understand the principles of diversity are your own accepting attitudes.
Children will develop and model their attitudes and behaviours on yours:
- Encourage children to recognise and appreciate people for the things that make them unique and special.
- Don’t make difference something to be ridiculed or shunned.
- Support children to understand that just because somebody looks different, sounds different, or does things in a slightly different way doesn’t mean that this person is any less worthy of respect or friendship.
- Encourage children to view differences as something that makes a person interesting and unique.
- Support your child to develop the skills necessary to form positive friendships with children who have different values, practices, languages and ethnic backgrounds to their own.
- Developing these skills will help ensure that children are able to grow into healthy, respectful adults who have positive attitudes towards their peers from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
Encouraging acceptance of diversity
- A respect for diverse languages and cultures can be fostered by borrowing children’s books from local libraries that depict people from diverse backgrounds participating in modern daily life.
- It is important that these images are realistic and accurate if you would like your child to have an accurate understanding of life as it is today. For example, if the only images that children see of people of diverse cultures depicts them dressed up for a festival or foraging in the jungle with loin cloths on, then children will assume that this is how all people from this community live all of the time.
- Borrowing bilingual children’s books provides children with the opportunity to see that language not only sounds different but that it also looks different as well. This can be supported by having discussions with children about the different languages that people speak. Discussions could focus on the positive aspects of having two languages.
- Help children to understand why people have different physical features by talking with them about different skin tones, hair types and eye colour. Encourage them to compare their appearance with yours.
- Talk about traits, which are inherited, and explain to children why people have different physical features. Encourage them to view different physical traits as something that makes a person distinctive.
- Foster a positive attitude towards differences by encouraging children to identify their strengths and the strengths of their friends. It is important to have open and honest discussions with children. If your child asks you a question about a particular culture or practice that you don’t know about, research the answer together. The Internet is a great learning tool for discovering diversity.
Supporting children to develop a respect and appreciation for cultural, language and ethnic diversity provides them with valuable life skills. These skills will help enable them to become confident young adults who respect and acknowledge the diverse values, practices and beliefs of others.
Article written by FKA Children’s Services Inc