Kids tend to notice right away when someone looks different from what they're used to -- whether it's their skin tone, body type, or style of dress -- and chances are, they'll say something about it. Though these moments can be embarrassing for parents, teaching your child to appreciate diversity means addressing their comments rather than immediately shushing or dismissing them, says Dr. Schweiger. "It's important to acknowledge we're not all the same -- and that that's not a bad thing," she says. Think of your kid's curiosity as an opportunity to teach him about respecting differences.
Of course, in order to raise kids who embrace diversity, you'll need to give them access to a variety of different cultures and traditions, says Hodson, and you can start by making sure the characters in your kids' shows and books have a broad range of backgrounds. But there's no substitute for firsthand, real-life experiences, so take your kids to explore new neighborhoods, try a new cuisine, or experience an important cultural event for a different ethnic group.
As you encounter new people, be sure to discuss not only the things that are different but also the things that are the same -- for example, how the girl in the head scarf is an avid roller skater just like your daughter, or how the teen with a blue Mohawk loves ice cream just as your son does. By taking a respectful approach and learning to make a connection with people they encounter, Hodson notes, kids will be receptive to exciting new experiences and will eventually come to see the world as a place brimming with possibility for discovery. That's a pretty powerful payoff.
Respect That Stuff!
When we teach kids to treat belongings with respect, we're helping them develop a sense of gratitude and consideration. How to do it:
Explain value. Help kids understand what gives something its worth. So if your son picks a neighbor's flower without asking, don't just scold him; mention all the time she spends tending her garden so everyone can enjoy it.
Think less is more. Children don't need a ton of stuff, and the more playthings they get, the less they'll appreciate each item. Offer them fewer toys, and try to choose ones that they can use in a variety of creative ways.
Make it clear. Before you hand over a prized object, spell out the rules: "If you would like to use Mommy's music box, you must be willing to stay seated, make sure you don't shake it, and let Mommy turn the key."
Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Parents magazine.