Embracing diversity – Regardless of Race, Gender and Ability
“Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners”, by Laurence Sterne. Respect, the single most important character trait a child will carry with them throughout their lives — respect not only for themselves, but for others as well. So how do we teach our children to respect others, especially those who are different from them? How do we show our children that the boundaries of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ become insignificant in their social interactions and that they should only focus on the merits of a person regardless of colour, gender and ability? Embracing diversity doesn’t come as naturally to kids so it requires a conscious effort on the part of parents and caregivers to help them embrace it. In a world where we are fixated on academic accolades for our children, we tend to overlook this aspect of character building. So, let us look at the some of the ways in which we can encourage and mould our children to be respectful and civic minded individuals with a penchant for empathy and compassion.
Towards a Multi-Racial Society
Before we introduce the concept of ‘others’ to our children, it is imperative for us to first help them establish their own self-identity. What is self-identity? It is the child’s recognition of who they are and the characteristics they possess in relation to their own social setting. Educate your child about the race they belong to and the moral and civic values you hold as a family. A child who is certain of their own identity is a confident child with a healthy sense of self-esteem — someone less likely to feel threatened by anything that is different from them. This type of child is often centred and comfortable in their own skin.
Children should be taught to respect all the different races in the world. To help them appreciate the importance of racial harmony, you could share historical stories about Singapore’s racial riots and explain how racial harmony and learning to co-exist with other races are crucial in a multi- racial country like Singapore. Children are naturally curious and observant so welcome any questions your child may have about another race and address them openly. Set simple rules as a family and practise them together – for instance, no one is allowed to make a racist comment or use a racial stereotype. If you hear your child repeating a racist remark do address it immediately and remind your child that it is never ok to ridicule another race.
Being a good role model to our children sets a very important example for them because children are our biggest imitators. If we embrace multi racialism, so will they. If we focus on the positive traits of another race, so will they. A good way to inculcate inclusivity and respect for other races is for parents to expand their circle of friends to include people of other races so that our children get to interact and mingle with them. This will make it more likely for them to go on and befriend children from other races.
Towards a More IncIusive and Compassionate Society
How do we go about teaching our children to embrace people with special needs? People who appear physically different may appear scary to our children. Exposing our children to some of the more common physical disabilities through books is one way to familiarise them with this — so as to reduce fear and promote a better understanding of some of these special needs. Encourage open discussions and allow your child to ask you questions about the physical characteristics of a special needs person that they have seen and then address them in a positive manner.
Our children are always looking to take the lead from us. If we respond awkwardly or are nervous when we interact with a person with special needs, chances are, our children will be able to sense our discomfort and may react in the same way. Respond and engage lovingly with people with disabilities such that it sets a good example for our kids to follow. Encourage your child to stand up for people with disabilities especially if they are being bullied. It’s important for your child to understand that respect cuts across all the different types of diversity and no one should ever be bullied or disrespected for being different than the rest.
Towards a More Equal Society
Teach your child the rules of engaging with the opposite gender — the dos and the don’ts. This should be taught at a young age so that it becomes a good cultivated habit as they grow up. Some of the basic rules may include, not undressing when someone of the opposite gender is in the same room, the difference between good touch and bad touch, and how they should behave around someone of the opposite gender. Incidental teaching can be done during play dates — point out appropriate and inappropriate social behaviours to your child. It’s easier for them to internalise the lesson when they have a relatable context.
Refrain from falling into stereotypical gender roles in your household. What does this mean? If a child sees only the mother engaging in household chores and cooking, it is very likely that this child will internalise that chores and cooking is a woman’s territory. Share the chores as equally as possible. Let your children witness both their parents cooking and doing domestic chores together so that they grow up knowing that they have an equal responsibility when they run their own households in future. Break down stereotypes further by getting your child to think of a profession that they like or admire — then proceed to show them photos of people in that profession who are of the opposite gender.
It is also imperative for parents to model respectful marital behaviour in front of their children. When a child sees their parents behaving and speaking in a loving and respectful manner, it is likely that they will grow up to behave in the same manner with their future spouses. Save the arguments and fights behind closed doors away from the impressionistic minds of your young children.
At the heart of it all, we do have to remember that when we are done taking care of our children, they eventually have to leave our ‘nest’ and face the world. So, it is important for parents to teach and mould their children at a young age, by pointing out diversities, addressing them and embracing them together as a family unit. Every time a child embraces something that is different from themselves, it strengthens their character. And remember to remind your children that no one is ever disabled, just differently-abled.
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