I think that every parent I know fears the moment that their child loudly announces an observation regarding someone else’s physical appearance. Our natural reaction seems to be embarrassment, shushing the child, or quickly changing the subject to avoid answering. I had this experience one day in the Summer while having gas put into my car by a gas station attendant. Our windows were down when my three year old daughter loudly announced, “Hey! That guy is really big!” I was immediately mortified and rolled the window up, praying that he didn’t hear her. Afterwards, I wondered why that was my reaction. We have to get ahead of the matter and discuss differences. Talking about diversity with children is important and shows our acceptance.

Acknowledge Your Child’s Observation Appropriately

Embarrassment in this situation comes from the fear of mishandling it and offending someone. It has become more commonplace to ignore differences rather than to accept and embrace them. I realized that I wanted to send a different message to my daughter and use the opportunity to talk about diversity. When we got home, I sat her down and told her that she was correct. The man at the gas station was big, but isn’t it so cool that we are all made differently? Wouldn’t it be a boring pace if we all looked the same? 

I decided that I wanted to be more prepared for when this type of event inevitably occurred again in the future. I wanted to be ready to acknowledge the observation and to be able to say something in return that would make that person feel seen and appreciated for who they are.  

Be Informed & Prepared To Talk About Diversity

While the politically correct terms seem to always be changing, doing your best to know the most respectful words to use is important. Our differences can be physical such as the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, the size of our body, or the clothes that we wear. They can also be in the make up of our family structure, the holidays that we celebrate, or what our name is. Children will learn overtime through life experience that our differences can sometimes also be challenges that we have to overcome. They will be much more prepared to support others if they are given a loving and accepting foundation from which to start.

Teach Love When Talking About Diversity

It is very important to my husband and I, that our daughters understand the concept of what a compliment is. Complimenting someone can really turn a person’s day around and make them feel good about themselves. I thought including a compliment in my explanation would help my daughters understand that we can see beauty and love in everyone. For example, “Did you notice today how the gas station attendant said please and thank you. I loved his manners!”

Exposing Children

Exposing children to images of people that look different than them through books, television, and toys can give them a great early understanding that not everyone is the same. Children naturally love and accept everyone until they are either taught not to, or are not taught to understand differences.

The Outcome

About three weeks after our initial experience with the gas station attendant, my daughter and I were standing in line at the supermarket. A woman with cornrows got in line behind us and smiled at my daughter. My daughter smiled back and said to her, “Your hair is beautiful.” She then turned to me and said, “Mom look at her hair, isn’t it beautiful?” I agreed with her that is was and the woman was so appreciative of the compliment. She went on to compliment my daughter’s hair and by the time I had paid for my food, the two of them had been talking for about five straight minutes. 

I’m not saying that every interaction we have regarding differences will go as smoothly as this one did. Certainly it’s a work in progress. However, it was a beautiful moment and reinforced for me that acknowledging differences and talking about diversity appropriately is far better than ignoring them or being embarrassed by them.

About The Author

Sarah PSarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care.