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Honor diversity; celebrate tolerance

Show your kids how accepting others benefits everyone

Honoring differences among people supports individuals as it brings people and communities together. With February recognized as Black History Month, what better time is there to teach your kids the value of acceptance and how it can benefit everyone?

Practice diversity.  Be a good race relations role model. Demonstrate positive race relations in practical ways in your own life by demonstrating diversity.  Ask yourself, do I have friends of other races?  If most of your friends are from your own race and culture, you may want to consider opportunities for you and your kids to interact with people of other races and cultures.  Attend a different church. Observe how they worship. Find something to appreciate about it and comment on it to your child.

You may find yourself asking, do I openly and verbally appreciate other races and cultures in front of my child? If you see a television program about a different culture, use the opportunity to discuss the different ways of life people experience. Find one thing you like about it and state it out loud.

Listen first. Don’t assume shared understandings about race. Sociologists assert that children construct differences and similarities differently than adults. Children notice differences quite early, but it may be for reasons that interest children and not as adults define the difference. 

A teacher noticed that six-year old girls on a playground were not playing with one girl in particular, who was African American. The astute teacher listened first before intervening and found that most of the girls preferred to play with girls who wore their hair with ribbons instead of girls who didn't use ribbons. The African American girl didn't use ribbons in her hair. She was excluded from conversations and games. 

The girls were not excluding her because of race but because of ribbons. To adult eyes, the game looked racist but to the children controlling the game, it made sense. The teacher then noticed one girl sharing her ribbons with the African American girl. The teacher chose to intervene in that moment and praised the sharing behavior. She talked about inclusion.

Answer your child’s questions about race and culture in an age appropriate way. Psychiatrist, Alvin Poussaint, a medical doctor, states that there are two critical development ages when race and culture questions are likely to occur, ages six-to-eight and the teenage years. 

These two stages are times when the child's world is expanding, and his or her values are forming or solidifying. Responding to a child's questions at these stages in simple, honest terms is important. Even a response of "I don't know" or "let's read about that" can show you are open to learning about different cultures, customs and communities.

When your child comes home and declares a classmate has parents of two different races and says, "Isn't that weird?" You may choose to say, "Not weird, just different." 

When your teen asks, what you think about his school renaming its sports teams because Native Americans find "Redskins" to be offensive, you can use it as an opportunity to discuss your own believes about racial slurs while demonstrating respect that others might not see it differently.

If parents lead by vision and example, they can intervene on the divisions in the nation, and homes every day.

Laura Lyles Reagan, M.S., is a sociologist, parent coach and parenting journalist. She is the author of "How to Raise Respectful Parents" and can be reached through her website,