by Jennifer Shakeel
There is no denying the fact that our children today are faced with more diversity then we parents were at their age. America is the “melting pot” of the world and that is a good characteristic. It is here in America you can experience the different cultures of the world without leaving this country and for many with out leaving their state or city. All of the diversity raises a very good question though, how as parents we teach our children about cultural diversity and tolerance.
First, in order to teach our children about cultural diversity and tolerance, we as parents need to figure out what our beliefs are about those two topics. How open are we to people from another culture or race. Knowing if we have any biases or prejudices against people that are different. Knowing if we do, admitting that we do and then figuring out why we have those beliefs is the first step. The goal is teach our children about the different cultures and introduce them to the different way people live and why. We do not want to cloud their judgment and give them biases.
As adults, it can be hard to open ourselves up enough to recognize and deal with our prejudices, but it is something we need to do for our children’s’ sake. You want your child to be open to new experiences and new people. In order for them to be that way, you need to be that way. Read books with your children about other cultures. Many libraries have wonderful selections about different cultures and societies from around the world. Talk to your local librarian and check out a few books and read them with your child. Make sure that they are age appropriate and if your child has more questions, the two of you can use the internet together to get answers.
Where we live, the schools have done a really nice job about bringing out the different cultures that are present among the students in the school. They all do reports about different cultures where they have to do the research, write a report and create something from that culture to share with the class. They also do a “Cultural Awareness” night at school. For this, families are asked to set up a booth in the gym with posters, and maps and traditional clothing and present something about their culture to the people that come through the “fair.” Thankfully, many families participate and there is food and music and dances and art and toys from all over the world right there in the gym.
That is something that the kids really look forward to and we enjoy doing with them. We participate in the fair, our family has a nice cultural mix. I am from America and my husband is from Pakistan. We were both raised very differently but have come together and created a wonderful harmony that has allowed our children to experience many things that most of their friends haven’t. They have friends from different cultures and we all get together and have dinners and celebrate different events together.
We decided as parents that we would educate our children about the different religions and spiritualities and when they were ready, they could make the decision about what they believed in. We do not eat pork, we do celebrate the holidays, and we honor diversity and celebrate the fact that we are our own culture. We do this because kids are smarter then many adults give them credit for. When we talk to our children about where we have come from, or about other people that we know and that they are friends with we talk to them intelligently. If we don’t have an answer for a certain question we tell them that we do not know and then we find the answer together.
The best way to teach your child about cultural diversity is to let them see you are accepting and tolerant. Our children emulate us, they act the way they do because of what they see their parents do. If you are open to other people, and make an effort to learn more about the different cultures, your child will eagerly want to do the same.
Make an effort to get to know your neighbor. Have dinner with a family that is different than your own. Encourage your child to make friends with other children. Ask them about the other kids on their class. We taught our children that they need to look at each person as a person.
We all look different on the outside, different colors of hair, eyes and skin. We all believe differently about a lot of different things. Pointing out those differences and uses those differences as reasons to not talk to someone is never acceptable. We have also told them that it is never okay for another person to something to them that makes them feel bad or hurts them or others.
Tolerance means understanding and openness, it does not mean acceptance of cruel behavior. That goes for everyone regardless of their culture.
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse. As a mother of two incredible children, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting. One of my children has ADD, our journey of learning to come to terms with the diagnosis and figuring out what works best for us has been a challenge and a joy. Our son was diagnosed about two and half years ago, and we have had our ups and downs, joys and sorrows. If I can just offer you one day of hope or one idea that may work to help you and your family then I know that my purpose has been fulfilled.
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