Diversity is part of life! Everyone is different and unique yet some of those differences through life are subject to discrimination and prejudice. From the colour of someone’s skin, to their physical appearance, behaviour, creed and culture, children are growing up in a world that is home to a diverse human race all fighting for survival and ultimately happiness within the confines of the our planet and yet many of those children will sadly grow up to act as judge and jury in terms of who they find acceptable, tolerate and who they will befriend or not.
It is a fact that children notice differences at a very young age. They listen, they look and they process essential information much earlier than many would imagine. Between the ages of 2 and 3 years old, children will start to notice physical differences; they will notice, and often comment on, the fact someone is very tall or someone else is short, the colour of eyes and hair, shapes of eyes, skin tone amongst the people that they meet to name but a few. Critically though, their attitudes to these differences can be heavily influenced by the reactions that they also meet, the experiences that they sense and in turn they will imitate these influences for better or for worse.
Parenting children then to accept diversity and even celebrate it, is all part of supporting and helping children develop into just, fair, respectful and tolerant adults. I remember our own children meeting a chap from Africa when they were small. Living in a predominantly white region of the UK, this was a new experience for them and as we found our youngest crawling under the table quizzically staring at the man’s hands, it became most apparent that they had no experience of the rich and diverse world that we live in. Thankfully, on the back of their inquisitive behaviour and very tolerant chap who was happy to answer their endless questions, we were able to embrace the subject of diversity with the children. Since that day, they have travelled widely, met many different people from all over the globe and been exposed to a variety of cultures and backgrounds to the extent that diversity is an accepted norm not a difference anymore.
Clearly though such acceptance is not just about race and culture but a diverse spectrum of differences that we meet every single day . Talking to children openly when they ask questions is central to helping them grow. Children are naturally inquisitive and essentially they are born tolerant, just and fair. When they ask questions they simply want to know, to understand and to comprehend the world in which we live. When they see something on the television, diverse as the media is nowadays, they need adults around them who will encourage open discussion about the positives as well as the negative stereotypes that are sometimes portrayed on our screens.
Sharing differences with children, as much as noticing the similarities, is an essential part of helping them to develop acceptance and tolerance. If we feel uncomfortable, sometimes it might be necessary to challenge our own attitudes. As an adult who has a condition that affects my everyday life, it recently was brought to my attention how adults with preconceived ideas and flawed assumptions about our differences discriminate without a second thought however wrong or hurtful they may end up being. Critically though they were the children whose parents didn’t spend time talking to them or who were maybe embarrassed by their questions when they were young. The parents own conflicts with diversity didn’t help them nurture a state of acceptance in their children and as such these children in turn also became prejudiced adults.
So whether it is disability, age, gender, heritage, race, religion, social position or financial status, we need to encourage our children to transcend prejudice and discrimination. Differences and diversity are as much part of life as similarities and likeness and only add to the wealth of our human existence. In short, therefore, we need to mix widely, embrace cultural traditions that we come across, try to understand with a heart of acceptance, encourage questions and enjoy being part of a world that celebrates the diversity that makes us all just that little bit different.