7 Ways To Celebrate Diversity and Teach Kids Empathy

Not only is my daughter an only child, she’s also a mom blogger’s only child. You could correctly assume she’s a bit — okay, a lot! — spoiled. It’s just the nature of our life. She gets mom’s and dad’s undivided attention when we’re together, and there’s nothing we want to change about that. As a mom blogger’s daughter who lives in L.A., she’s gone to Disneyland and Disney World as a VIP more times than she should have at this age. In contrast, I was 12 the first time I went and it was a dream come true! And it’s not only going to Disneyland — it’s screening movies, getting gifts, unexpected boxes at our front door, and on and on…

I’m honestly afraid that she has no grasp of the “real world” where all her first-world problems, like not being able to get a Sofia the First plush doll because it’s sold out or being oh-so-bored on a Sunday with “nothing to do,” seem so dramatic.

It’s actually not her fault at all. I truly believe we’re all born into the lifestyle we need in order to develop the skills, lacks and desires that will propel us towards our mission in life. Because I can’t and don’t want to change the life we’ve built for her, and am very grateful for, I’m fully aware that it’s our responsibility as her parents to make sure she doesn’t grow up in a bubble that shelters her from all the diversity in lifestyles and life situations that our world is made up of.

I can’t force my daughter to not whine or have tantrums over what we, in our mature adult POV, believe is just plain silly, but we can teach her empathy, which is simply the ability to be aware and sensitive to the feelings of others.

Start Empathy, a collaboration of social entrepreneurs, educators and parents has realized that by teaching our children empathy  we are giving them a “crucial skill for leading a successful and happy life.” Empathy provides a strong foundation for listening, communications, collaboration and problem-solving critical skills in a rapidly changing and diverse world.

“It’s easy to empathize with someone who looks like you and sounds like you,” said via email Michael Zakaras of Start Empathy. “We’ve found that by celebrating diversity — immersing kids in other cultures and introducing them to backgrounds and perspectives that are different than their own — we’re able to build a lasting appreciation of difference. The result is better behavior and more inclusive attitudes.”

Celebrating diversity to teach my daughter empathy is something I can totally embrace and am already practicing. Like any other skill, empathy — even though we’re wired for it — needs to be nurtured and practiced. Here are some things I already do and some I need to do more of to celebrate diversity with my girl and teach her empathy.

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  • Go to movies, museums, festivals, and eat in restaurants from a variety of countries and religions. 2 of 8
    Go to movies, museums, festivals, and eat in restaurants from a variety of countries and religions.
    Living in L.A. we have such a culturally diverse map of options to choose from. We can go to Little Tokyo one day, shop for queso fresco at the Mexican mercado in East L.A. the next and stop to devour pork dumplings in Chinatown anytime. Take advantage of special celebrations provided by cultural centers, consulates, embassies, spiritual centers and museums. These are usually packed with traditional foods, sights and sounds. It's a great way to expose our children to other's traditions and start conversations about how different we all are and how beautiful that is.
  • Cook with our kids and a friend from a culture different from our own. 3 of 8
    Cook with our kids and a friend from a culture different from our own.
    Kids just love to cook, and how cute to have a cooking playdate where the mission is to explore foods from other regions? I personally love the Handstand Kids Cookbooks collection for Italian, Chinese and Mexican treats inspiration.
  • Listen to folk tales and music from around the world. 4 of 8
    Listen to folk tales and music from around the world.
    We have a great collection of Putumayo Kids CDs from around the world and we also focus a lot on different rhythms from Latina America and Spain. It's great to have access to online music collections on apps like Spotify where you can easily search by region or sound and get playlists galore. Just pump it up and dance to new tunes!
  • Sponsor a child from another country. 5 of 8
    Sponsor a child from another country.
    Last december I finally sat down and clicked over to the Save the Children website to find a girl we could sponsor on a monthly basis. I did the whole process with my girl sitting down next to me so she could help me choose who it would be and we could start a conversation about why there are so many children in need that need aid. I searched for children in El Salvador because I wanted to make sure my daughter continued making that connection to the country where our family resides. We chose Brenda, an adorable 5-year-old girl with the brightest of smiles that my daughter instantly related to.
  • Travel to foreign countries 6 of 8
    Travel to foreign countries
    Not every family can include travel in their plans these days, but for those that can, it's one of the best ways to truly cultivate an awareness for cultural diversity and, thus, empathy. There's nothing like being away from our comfort zone and gaining perspective. The best travel is the one that allows us real contact with local people and their ways. Nothing like having a home-cooked meal in someone's home in another country!
  • Learn a second language. 7 of 8
    Learn a second language.
    Children that speak more than one language from birth are known to have an innate open heart and a capacity to navigate between cultures and diverse situations. My daughter has been raised completely bilingually in English and Spanish and that allows her to be able to have conversations and understand much more of the people and the world around her, especially when we travel to visit family in Mexico and El Salvador.
  • Be a role model. 8 of 8
    Be a role model.
    Children learn from and mimic their parents' behaviors. Talking about being and playing "nice" is important, but actions have to match words. As a child's closest and most important role model, it's vital that we demonstrate empathic behavior to our children. I learned on Start Empathy that this can be as simple as always speaking respectfully of other people, or helping a friend or neighbor in need. Small actions on a daily basis represent the best opportunities to translate empathy into action.

{Original picture by TrinitroX on Flickr}


Buy the book I co-authored, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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