Acknowledging our differences is a start—but what you do next has a huge impact on the way your child connects to others.
Talk Openly About Differences
Around age 3, kids will start asking about the differences they see in other people. “You want to respond in a way that doesn’t stifle their natural curiosity,” says Maryam Abdullah, PhD, parenting program director at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Encourage them to ask questions so you can highlight the beauty of diversity.” If a child points out a fellow shopper’s skin color, acknowledge the point, then add, “Who do we know who has this skin color? Who are the people we play with, go to school with?” Explains Abdullah, “That lets them know we have connections despite these differences.”
Avoid Generalizing Language
“If you hear your child say, ‘All boys are good at math,’ say, ‘I know some boys who are good at math and some who are good at reading. And remember when Sally won the math award at your school?’ ” says Michele Borba, EdD, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. For teens: “Instead of using labels like ‘the drama kids,’ use their names,” says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Grow Their Circle of Friends
“The more we can expand their friendships as children—through playdates, soccer clubs, chess clubs—the more accepting they will be of others,” says Borba. “Having a positive relationship with someone from another group is the best way to overcome prejudice.”
Escape Into Harry Potter
By walking in the young wizard’s shoes, kids learn to empathize with stigmatized characters (Half-bloods! House-elves!), notes a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Reading all kinds of books about kids from different backgrounds is great for perspective-taking, a bedrock skill of tolerance. As you read, ask your child, “Why do you think the character did that? How do you think he felt when that happened?”
Expose Your Child to Different Cultures
Traveling together is wonderful for helping kids avoid a “my way or the highway” take on the world. “Anytime you get out of your comfort zone and expose your kids to something beyond their day-to-day life, it helps,” says Borba. You don’t need to take an expensive trip: Visit a variety of houses of worship, ethnic restaurants, or music festivals in your town.