Children are being brought up in increasingly multi-cultural societies. The globalisation of family life means that, more than any other time, children are being exposed to people from different countries, cultures, religions, ethnicities and abilities. Helping your child to tolerate and accept difference is an important part of parenting in the 21st century.
While children thrive on novelty (they love to play with new toys, see new things, go to new places) they also learn a great deal from the comfort and predictability of familiarity. Children are far more open minded than adults (they’ve had less time to learn bad habits!) so it is important that we help our children to understand difference while their brains are still malleable enough to take in new information.
Pre-school children learn through watching and imitating. They will repeat what they have heard from home and will adopt their parents views very quickly. That’s why it is so important that parents act in the way they would like their child to. If you are a tolerant, curious and open minded person then your child is more likely to be too. Pre-school children are full of “why?” questions. Often these questions will be about why someone looks different or does something different. Answer these questions honestly and if you don’t know the answer or you’re a bit flummoxed then it’s absolutely fine to say “you know what, I don’t know. I’ll have a think about it and then we can chat about it more, later on this afternoon”.
Being the same as someone is comforting to a little child. Help your child to understand that although someone might look different, talk differently, dress differently or just do things differently, there are still a lot of similarities. Encourage your child to spend time with a wide variety of people so that they can build up their confidence. Children can also learn about difference by playing with a variety of toys. The VTech Toot-Toot friends for example are a mix of boys and girls, all of whom have different strengths. While playing with all of these characters, children learn what it feels like to be each one and empathise with them. Children will then transfer this experience into their day to day interactions with others.
As children’s brains grow, they become more aware that others can have different views and ideas about things and this can be quite frightening for a child. Most children will naturally steer their way through these feelings by experiencing situations where they learn to negotiate, take turns, compromise and communicate. All of these skills are essential for forming friendships throughout life and they also contribute to a child’s sense of belief in themselves and their abilities.
Children have a strong need to fit in, to be a part of a peer group and to be accepted. This need increases throughout childhood and reaches its peak in adolescence. When they are young, children try to fit in by being like other children- they may want to dress like them, talk like them or do the same things as them. As a parent you need to acknowledge this need to be like others in order to fit in, but also help your child to understand that they are loved and accepted for who they are, as someone unique. Use story books or TV programmes to start conversations with your child about differences and similarities and how it is important to accept yourself. Embrace your child’s individuality – just because you think pink spots and red stripes don’t go together, it doesn’t mean your child does. Let them explore and experiment – then they will grow up to be more in tune and more accepting of who they really are.
Angharad Rudkin has teamed up with VTech to support the launch of its new fun and interactive range, Toot-Toot Friends. For more information please visit www.vtech.co.uk