Recently, diversity has become something of a buzzword; it’s used so frequently though that it has lost a lot of meaning. Some groups use diversity in shallow ways, as if it’s only somewhat important, when the truth is diversity, at its fullest, is incredibly meaningful, leading to better connection, growth, and lives for everyone.
One of the best ways to make sure your child understands the importance of genuinely practiced diversity is by encouraging them to make friends with children different than them. In this month’s post, we’ll explain the biggest reasons diversity, and making diverse friends, is so important at a young age.
Difference as a Strength
One of the biggest roadblocks to children making diverse friends and therefore learning how meaningful diversity is is that children, and people in general, have a tendency to view differences as bad. Our brains are simply wired to organize, and that includes organizing those around us into groups based on a variety of factors. This is why, as children get older, they split into cliques.
Teaching your children at a young age that it’s not only acceptable but positive to look outside their group of similar friends is a hugely beneficial practice. Making diverse friends when they’re young helps them realize as they grow older that differences are not inherently a negative thing.
A Foundation of Empathy
Practicing empathy is one of the most difficult things humans can do. Sympathy means to feel sorry or understanding during someone’s time of misfortune, such as when a friend loses a loved one and you are sympathetic and supportive. This is important, but empathy goes beyond that.
Empathy is the ability to actually share the feelings of others, rather than feeling pity for them. When done perfectly, empathy means caring for people we haven’t even met, and that means people different than us. Becoming friends with people different than ourselves is crucial to learning this trait, and when children become friends with diverse children, it leads to ingrained empathy. This means they don’t have to work nearly as hard to be intentional about it; they simply genuinely care for others, because they understand.
Learn about Stereotypes and Biases
Though they are difficult, frustrating, and complicated, stereotypes and biases are a part of life no matter who you are or where you live. When your child goes off to preschool or daycare for the first time and meets diverse friends, it gives you a great opportunity to discuss what these stereotypes and biases mean, as well as why they are false and damaging to those around us.
Starting the conversation about stereotypes, biases, and diversity is never easy; it can feel difficult and clumsy to talk about. But if your child makes diverse friends, it makes things simpler, because it gives them an understanding that you’re right – these stereotypes are completely false and misplaced. They can see that with their own eyes.
A Greater Sense of Self
Knowing other people of different cultures and backgrounds can also give your children a greater sense of who they are. This doesn’t mean they should feel superior, and you should teach them they’re not; instead, it helps them understand that they are also part of a larger culture. If you know your ancestry, diverse friends can give you a window to discussing where you come from, allowing them to start to grasp the concept of a larger world, older than themselves. While it will obviously take much longer than one conversation, it’s great to start.
Encourage Respect and Curiosity
Everyone has embarrassing stories from when they were kids, and one such embarrassing thing many kids do is ask honest, inappropriate questions. Children are naturally curious, so when they meet children who don’t look like them, they sometimes ask questions that adults would never dare – it just happens.
Your child going off to daycare and preschool allows you to have conversations about the balance between respect and curiosity. All of us should be both of these things, and finding the balance can be tricky.
Set a Good Example
Despite all this, your child making diverse friends will mean very little if you’re not setting a good example. This means having diverse friends yourself, yes, but it also means practicing what you preach. Discussing biases, respect, and curiosity means nothing if you’re not doing them on your own.
When looking for a place to take care of your child, these elements should be a high priority. For a place with a high priority on diversity as well as brain development through real-world situations, come tour one of ABC’s & 123’s Learning Centers today!