Parents have the ability to open our children’s eyes and minds to the world around them. Prejudice against cultures, abilities and gender starts at a young age. Sharing ways that people are similar while showing appreciation to other cultures and abilities will promote an anti-bias attitude in your child.
Living in a community as richly diverse as Queens is a great advantage. There are so many different cultures we can explore by, for instance, visiting the Columbian bakery in another neighborhood or eating at the Indian restaurant down the street. We have the advantage of teaching our kids that the differences in people are enriching rather than frightening.
There are many ways to show New York’s diversity. For instance, you can visit a powwow and see how Native Americans celebrate their heritage by going on their website at www.wanderingbull.com. Show your child what it may be like to have an eyesight loss by showing them the Braille at the ATM machine. In this way they can see how visually impaired people “read” with their fingers. Stock your preschooler’s art drawer with crayons representing a variety of skin, hair and eye colors. Explain how people use different words to say the same things right here in New York – for example: pop (soda), bubbler (water cooler), hoagie or sub (sandwich), etc. Point out handicap ramps and explain that people in wheelchairs use them instead of steps to get around. Cook up dishes from countries near and far, try fried rice from China or Middle Eastern hummus. Visit the local library and take out books about other countries. Celebrate holidays from other countries by checking the local event listings in the papers and the many celebrations that are open to the general public in libraries or churches. Most of all, encourage your kids to value their own culture, because they need to feel good about their own heritage in order to value someone else’s.
If your child expresses prejudice, realize that it is normal behavior, don’t repress it. Instead, replace the negative thought with a positive one – for example, have them think about something positive about that person.
Nurturing compassion in our kids is another important job. There is no better way to balance the anger and fear that the September 11th attacks left with us than to give children something positive to do for others. In the weeks following the tragedy, people of every race and ethnic background united in a common cause of caring. Some ways to achieve this is to talk about ways your family can help those less fortunate – from helping a senior cross a street to making cookies for a hospitalized child. Every year my 4-year-old son looks forward to buying a small toy at Christmas to wrap and give to a child less fortunate.
Encourage your older child to seek neighborhood jobs raking leaves or shoveling snow. Doing this will make him feel as though he has contributed to the community. Take your children on outings to nursing homes so they can spend time with those who are lonely or sad. When your child is unkind to another child, help him understand someone else’s feelings – “Did you see how unhappy Ben was when you yelled at him?” and have him apologize. Above all compliment your child on anything thoughtful he does for someone else.
Of course the best way we can teach is by our example – join a neighborhood group and clean up your area. Give an hour a week of your time to someone who needs it. If you are interested in volunteering but don’t know how, a wonderful resource is www.helping.org; or look up “Social and Human Services” in the Yellow Pages. Keep in mind we always need volunteers here at the JPCA – from everything to writing an article to cleanups in the community. For more information on volunteering call the Juniper Park Civic Association at (718) 651-5865 or e-mail us at: email@example.com.