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Be Kind to One Another: Encouraging Children to Embrace Diversity

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by Katie Kennedy, Ph.D., Research Consultant, Bay Area Discovery Museum, colleague of the Goddard School Education Advisory Board 

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, I was exposed to very little diversity. Most of the diversity I saw was on televisionand to be honest, television wasn’t even that good at representing diversity in the 90s.  

As I got older, however, I became interested both in working with diverse populations and studying children’s understanding of diversity. Through these experiences, it became evident that in spite of the common notion that opposites attractpeople often stick close to others who are like themselves.  

Although parents may find it somewhat concerning that children seem to prefer to play with peers who are similar to themselves, it is important to recognize that there is a natural tendency for boys to play with boys and girls to play with girls. It’s instinctive to want to group people by social categories like gender and race, and individuals are often most comfortable staying close to those whom they find most similar to themselvesA rich body of developmental psychology research has documented that even young children are aware of social category divides, and they use these groupings to make decisions, such as which children to befriend, help or trust as sources of information 

The world today is filled with a melting pot of people, and children should be urged to spend time with those who are different from themselves along such dimensions as beliefs, behaviors and appearanceThis is critical because, as research has shown, contact with people from different racial and ethnic groups is associated with less adverse beliefs about diverse others. 

As adults, we need to provide children with opportunities to have positive experiences interacting with diverse people, such as traveling to new places, going to ethnic restaurants and viewing television shows that promote foreign language learning like Dora the Explorer and Ni Hao Kai LanIn a world where it is much too common to see people being unkind to individuals who are unlike themselves, we can inspire the next generation to have open hearts and minds. We can learn a lot from one another if only we are willing. As Ellen DeGeneres says at the end of every show, “Be kind to one another.”