The formative years of early childhood are when a child’s key characteristics such as social attitudes begin to develop. Unfortunately, negative social attitudes such as prejudice and bias usually emerge during this period of time as well. As such, it is important to recognise that these traits are learnt rather than inherent, and often arise from fear and a lack of understanding (Luhman and Gilman 1980).
On the flip side, if these negative attitudes are learnt, they also can be un-learnt.
Therefore, dads and other significant family members should instill in children a strong multicultural awareness that counters and transcends these negative social attitudes.
Dads have to help their children grow in awareness of the many dimensions of human differences: race, occupation, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, various physical traits and needs.
Multicultural awareness also extends beyond the geographical boundaries of Singapore to include beliefs and attitudes about people from all over the world (Ramsey, 1987). Teaching children multicultural awareness prepares children for the multicultural, multiracial and expanding global community they live in, and the challenges they will encounter when interacting with people from vastly different backgrounds.
It is important for children to cultivate the capacity to recognise and appreciate diversity of various forms while focusing on commonalties that bind people (Stürmer & Synder et. al, 2006).
A multiculturally-savvy kid is one who is able to take pride in his or her identity without feeling superior to other groups. Essentially, children who have both a positive sense of self and compassion for others are able to accept and affirm differences, identify unfair situations, and stand up against racism and discrimination (Biles, 1994).
Dads can help their children acquire multicultural knowledge, skills and attitudes in many ways:
1. Take a look at those toys and books. Purchase those that reflect racial and cultural diversity in Singapore and globally. This is especially important for children of minority groups, who will notice that the dolls they play with do not resemble them and only represent the mainstream.
Books and toys that reflect racial and cultural diversity will not only help children from minority groups feel good about themselves; but help all children feel positive about differences (Biles, 1994).
Choose stories and poems that examine issues of race and culture, and read them to your child to stimulate discussion. Conversely, try to ensure that any materials and visuals that promote stereotypes are removed from the household (Biles, 1994).
2. “Cultural” Things-to-do and Places-to-go. Bring your child to museums, exhibitions, dances or musicals, which feature the rich heritage of different regions. After a performance, have a discussion with your children to hear their views about how different cultures express similar themes and ideas. Look out for announcements in newspapers or by doing a simple Internet search.
3. Play, have fun, make friends. Encourage your kids to play with other kids in their schools or neighbourhood. Make a concerted effort to get to know your neighbours from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and arrange play dates for the children. Find out who your children’s close friends are at school, and if they are all from a similar racial background, provide your child with more opportunities to interact with people from diverse backgrounds.
Be sure to lead by example. You send mixed signals if you encourage your children to have friends of different races while you only have friends of the same race.
4. Grab some food for thought (about culture). Introduce your children to different cuisines. Food plays an important role in a people’s cultures and traditions. Let your child taste the food. Explain the various ingredients that go into food preparation and the cultural symbolism of certain dishes.
5. Do not be afraid to talk about sensitive issues such as race. If your child tells you that someone “looks different”, discuss your child’s reaction with him or her.
When you witness any form of intolerance, bias, discrimination, or racism, do not pretend it does not exist. Research shows that children are keenly aware of their caregivers’ discomfort when the topic of race arises and will notice the messages their caregivers’ silences send (Copenhaver-Johnson, 2007).
Point out these negative situations to your child, ask her or him to imagine how it would feel like to be in that person’s shoes, and discuss how the situation could have been dealt with differently.
6. Help your kid know how to change. Inculcate self-reflexivity in your children by prompting them with thought-provoking questions. Multicultural awareness ultimately starts with self-awareness: having self-awareness allows children to reflect on whether they have any biases or prejudices against people that are different. They will then be able to admit those biases to themselves and delve into the roots of these biases, which is the crucial first step to eradicating such negative attitudes.
- Biles, B. (1994). Activities that promote racial and cultural awareness. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Family child care connections*, 4(3), pp. 1p;4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. <http://www.pbs.org/kcts/preciouschildren/diversity/read_activities.html>
- Copenhaver-Johnson, Jane (2007) Talking to Children about Race: The Importance of Inviting Difficult Conversations inChildhood Education.
- Luhman, Reid. & Gilman, Stuart. (1980). Race and Ethnic Relations: The social and Political Experience of Minority Groups. Wadsworth. Pp. 60-66.
- Ramsey, P. (1987). Teaching and learning in a diverse world: Multicultural education for young children. New York: Teachers College Press. Stefan Stürmer, Mark Snyder, Alexandra Kropp, and Birte Siem (2006). Empathy-Motivated Helping: The Moderating Role of Group Membership. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 32: 943-956.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 30-07-2012.
Categories: Ages and Stages