While seeing and celebrating all the different holidays this season, we at Child In Mind were pressed to ruminate on what diversity means to young children. The thing is, the concept of diversity is very adult. What does a 2-year-old learn from the fact that people come from different places, hold different traditions? Gender, culture, ethnicity, religion are such complex subjects. I mean, even we as parents are still learning and understanding all the intricacies of how people can be different.
But it’s not so much that children need to understand the word “diversity,” the importance of equality, or the issues of poverty. Those are huge ideas and it takes years, not to mention brain development, to realize that they exist and how to go about trying to solve them. How long did it take me? I grew up in Asia and when I came to New York, I was astounded at how many cultures, backgrounds, classes there were. And it took me years to see them as individuals.
This is all to say that we have to introduce these concepts to children mindfully. Because with exposure to diversity comes exposure to injustice, inequity, economic hardship. Needless to say, those are overwhelming problems. But they’re important messages to relay and as fellow cohabitors of the world, we have a responsibility to do so. So start simply - children need to be exposed to people outside their immediate family. The more variety in the things they see and experience, the better. Seeing a variety of faces, of complexions, tasting different types of food, seeing families that look different and hold different traditions from theirs, is so beneficial for them. It teaches them acceptance, empathy and slowly creates a space inside them to hold all of it, not to turn away or to reject experiences they aren’t familiar with. The more that space is grown and nurtured in a child, the better chances they have of being tolerant, compassionate and happy.
Here are some fun and kid-friendly things I exposed my own children to to start growing that space. Always keep an eye out for art or cultural events in your town that feature or highlight other cultures and experiences. These are always so fun for children because they’re often creative or very visually stimulating. And try dedicating one meal a week or a month to trying out a new recipe from around the world with your little one. This doubles as a learning experience and gets you some help making dinner!
Japanese taiko drums
Indonesian shadow puppets
Chinese Dragon Dance during Chinese New Year
Caribbean Heritage Parade or street parties
Italian celebratory feasts of Saints
Vietnamese glass noodles
Chinese soup dumplings