In the increasingly global nature of our society and economy, how can parents encourage their children to be more open to diversity? As with every issue we address in our e-zine, a big part of the answer is "practice what you preach." Children learn to imitate their parents' behavior, so paying lip service to diversity is not enough. In this issue of the e-zine, Professor Matt Yeazel provides thoughtful suggestions on how parents can model diversity for their children.
Professor Yeazel is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Anne Arundel Community College. He is a licensed clinical social worker whose previous positions have included working with the Anne Arundel County Department of Health providing clinical services to children and adolescents. He also consults with the Family Outreach Network for bilingual parent education programs and works in private practice in the Elkridge/Columbia area.
BECOMING A PARENT WHO MODELS DIVERSITY
by Matt Yeazel, LCSW-C
One of the hardest dilemmas parents can face is how they teach their children to celebrate diversity in a world that can often be so intolerant. Though many articles have been written about how raise a diverse child, most come back to one important premise: Parents need to practice what they preach. This sometimes can be easier said than done. Unfortunately, some parents never had the chance to see a respected adult in their lives model a celebration of diversity when they were children.
What can you do when you don't have a frame of reference by which to show your own respect for diversity with your children? We want to teach our children to respect and celebrate differences, but how? Unfortunately, an honest discussion and, more importantly, examination of our own belief systems is essential in order to be that model we want to be. Sometimes this can bring up feelings and thoughts that we didn't think were part of our thought processes. Becoming a better role model is by no means an overnight process, but the following tips may help you to focus on your own behavior and to think about what steps you can take:
Watch the language you use. Though this may seem obvious, spend some time being conscious of this. People often use language that they are not aware is intolerant. There are people who would never think to use a racial epithet (obviously an important first step) but don't think twice about using sexist or homophobic terms or expressions. One might not even recognize that an "off the cuff" joke might involve hurtful statements about someone who is disabled. In emotional situations we are potentially more prone to saying something intolerant. Conversely, speaking out immediately against someone's use of a racial or ethnic slur might be a fantastic model to your children about how you handle intolerance. It sometimes takes courage to do so. Stepping up and demonstrating courage against intolerance is one of the best ways to become heroic in your children's eyes.
Make yourself knowledgeable about people who are different than you are. Begin reading now about people of diverse backgrounds and what they encountered or lived through. Taking time to understand the meaning behind an event such as Ramadan is just as important as spending time gaining a greater awareness of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
No one needs to tell a parent about the number of opportunities that arise during the course of a day that you might be able to impart a bit of wisdom or insight to your child. The very act of reading at night is a fantastic thing to model for your children. How about being observed reading about a person from a diverse or different background as well? This provides two important lessons at the same time!
Visit various important landmarks in your community or attend different events that celebrate diversity. This past week marked the celebration of Chinese New Year, a wonderful opportunity to experience an event that could provide a fantastic chance to model your own respect for diversity. Here modeling diversity for your children may take the role of putting this event on the calendar weeks in advance and actively demonstrating some level of excitement and interest in this special time. The Dragon dance, one of the highlights of the Chinese New Year celebration, could be a great point of emphasis for young children. Learning all that you can about this dance will not only ensure that your children have an accurate understanding of the Dragon dance, but will also show them that you place a great deal of importance in understanding, learning and celebrating someone else's cultural traditions. A Native American Pow-Wow could be another example. Lost in the shuffle sometimes as opportunities to celebrate diversity are such things as attending a wheelchair basketball event, the Special Olympics, or a sign language theater production.
CONTINUE TO PAGE 2