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10 Ways to Teach Kids About Diversity

Have your kids ever wondered why people look different, or talk with an accent, or celebrate different holidays? Mighty Mommy has 10 tips on teaching your kids about cultural diversity.

By
Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #212

Never has there been a better time to introduce children to racial and cultural diversity. We are fortunate to live in a country where so many ethnicities are represented, giving families plenty of wonderful opportunities to learn and appreciate how different cultures live without having to leave home to do so. 

We parents tend to wait too long to talk about diversity with our children. Research published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that most adults believe that children should be at least five years old before adults talk to them about race. But research also shows that infants can perceive racial differences and preschoolers are even capable of adopting racist beliefs.

Today, I’m going to share 10 ways in which you can teach your kids about cultural diversity and the value of differences.

1. Examine your own cultural beliefs

The best way to teach your child about cultural diversity is to be accepting yourself. Our children imitate us, so teaching them about cultural diversity starts with examining our own beliefs and biases. To quote my QDT colleague, Dr. Jade Wu:

The concept of implicit racial bias... refers to unconscious attitudes and tendencies that happen behind the scenes of what we say and do. These tendencies may not look like in-your-face racism. Nevertheless, they contribute to perpetuating racism in our society.

Dr. Jade Wu, Savvy Psychologist

Begin by examining your own conscience and behavior—where do your implicit biases lie? What things do you (consciously or unconsciously) do that could affect the way your children experience people of other races and from other cultures?

Gain a little insight into yourself by taking Harvard's Implicit Bias Test. It can reveal opportunities for growth!

RELATED: How Being Less Defensive About Racism Will Help You Grow

2. Purchase a globe or a world map

Every day, we see and hear the news that happens in places outside our own country. That news gives us an opportunity not only to talk about current events (especially with school-age children) but to explore geography.

A great place to start is by having a globe or a world map available in your home. We have a large and colorful map which is framed and hanging in our family room. When something globally newsworthy happens, the kids can go right to the map and physically see that area of the world. This allows them opportunities to ask questions, engage in discussion, and creates teachable moments for the whole family.

Encourage curiosity! When you look up a location on your globe or map, your child can also head to Wikipedia or a website like the Kids World Travel Guide to learn more about the country and its people.

3. Sample cuisine from other countries

My family lives near a major university, so we have been very fortunate to meet families from all over the world, including China, India, Germany, and Spain. One year, our community organized an “Intercontinental Cuisine” dinner where everyone signed on to bring dishes from their country. Over 100 people dined on sushi, curries, wiener schnitzel, paella, and more. There was music playing from these different cultures as well. Some of us even got an instant foreign language lesson from some of the language professors who attended. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to have access to a university to accomplish this. Simply reach out to folks in your town, or maybe one of your child’s friends comes from a different country, and have a pot luck. This is a delicious way to introduce kids to new cultures.

4. Encourage questions

If your child has questions about differences in physical characteristics or cultural practices, discuss them openly. This teaches your child that it’s okay to notice differences, and more importantly, it teaches him that it’s good to talk about them. 

Learning to appreciate and accept all kinds of differences—not just racial and cultural but differences in socioeconomic levels, gender, and even disabilities is an important skill in today’s diverse society.

5. Offer books on culture, race, and disability

David’s Drawings by Cathryn Falwell

Perfect for: Ages 7 – 10  

What it’s about: One wintry morning, David, a shy African-American boy, spies a beautiful tree on his way to school. Before class begins, he gets a paper and pencil and draws its trunk and bare branches. Soon, his schoolmates look on and make suggestions. In this gentle and appealing story, a boy figures out how to stay true to his own artistic vision while allowing his friends to express their own creativity.

Black, White, Just Right! by Marguerite W. Davol  

Perfect for: Ages 2-5

What it’s about: A mixed-race child celebrates the rich inclusiveness of her life in a joyful picture book. Mama's face is chestnut brown, Papa's face turns pink in the sun, the child's a little dark, a little light, and "Just right!"

Stinky the Bulldog by Jackie Valent  

Perfect for: Age 3 and under

What it’s about: Stinky is a lovable little bulldog who moves to a new neighborhood. The mama bulldog teaches Stinky a valuable lesson in not judging others in this colorful picture book.

Special People, Special Ways by Arlene Maguire 

Perfect for: Grade 2 and up

Special People, Special Ways presents a positive image of persons with disabilities. It shares the message that even though each of us may have something different about us, we share many commonalities. Coupled with colorful illustrations, the book conveys the message that although painful at times, being different can also be wonderful.

My Sister is Special by Larry Jansen  

Perfect for: 3 and up

What it’s about: A little boy learns compassion and patience as he cares for his little sister, who has Down Syndrome.

6. Learn about holidays from other cultures

Learning about the holidays and events that people from other cultures celebrate will expand your mind as well as your child's! Create a wall calendar for your family. Then, use an online calendar such as the 2021 Diversity Holiday Calendar to write down holidays celebrated by other cultures. You and your kids will enjoy learning about celebrations like Holi, the colorful Hindu celebration of spring.

Kids and adults come out of their house and smear each other with bright shades of gulal. Colorful waters are sprinkled on people and kids are found playing with pichkari and water balloons. People exchange sweets, Thandai, and snacks among neighbors and friends. Popular Holi sweets are Gujiya, Ladoo, Burfi, and Imarti, etc. Indian festive celebration is incomplete without delicious sweets.

Holi Festival of Colours

What other holidays will you learn about as the year unfolds?

7. Encourage kids to correspond with international pen pals

Find out about pen pals for your kids in other countries. Have kids pick a pen pal and start writing to or emailing them. Kids who build up relationships with people in other countries will end up being more globally aware. With the prevalence of email and social media these days, this is easier than ever. My kids’ school has had great success with this in years past using Kid World Citizen, a great resource to locate international pen pals.

8. Attend cultural events

Most communities have free and low-cost cultural events hosted at places of worship, community centers, schools, and other organizations. Explore the calendar of events in your area to find kid-friendly events including interfaith gatherings, cultural festivals, art exhibits from foreign countries, and other activities.

9. Watch films that introduce new places and people

Use family movie night as a way to celebrate diversity and other cultures. InCultureParent has a wonderful list of 20 diverse movies to get you started. Make time after you watch the movie to answer your child's questions or talk about what you've seen and learned.

FilmRatings.com is a helpful resource for understanding how films are rated and why. Use it to research movies to see whether they're age-appropriate before you show them to your children.

10. Promote empathy and sensitivity

Kids need to understand that no matter where we are, people really are essentially the same. They have the same emotions, desires, and worries. Teaching this to your kids now can keep them from harboring prejudice and help them grow into thoughtful, open-minded adults.

I hope these tips will help you to bring various cultures into the lives of your children. By working to raise globally aware kids, we can make a positive difference in their future. Until next time, happy parenting!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.