Whilst many inequalities and prejudices still exist in the world, society is becoming progressively more inclusive. This continuous progression of an inclusive society relies on future generations being raised as open-minded and tolerant individuals who celebrate the differences and diversity in society.
Your child’s future perceptions of diversity will be influenced considerably by their early education and upbringing. You have the power to raise open-minded, inclusive and tolerant children who welcome diversity with open arms and accept everyone for who they are.
What is the Montessori approach to diversity and inclusion?
Maria Montessori was a passionate advocate of educating children in diversity and inclusion from a young age. She believed in promoting diversity and teaching children about different beliefs, cultures and ways of life. By doing this, Maria Montessori believed that children would grow to be open-minded and tolerant individuals.
She wrote and spoke many times about the importance of peace education. Dr Montessori is quoted as saying that “averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education”.
A Montessori approach to education is the perfect foundation to begin to teach your child about diversity whilst guiding them to become inclusive and tolerant individuals.
How can you raise your child to be inclusive and tolerant?
Every parent wants to raise their child to be inclusive and tolerant of others. Let’s face it, no parent would ever aspire for their child to ever be thought of as having prejudices.
The building blocks to becoming an inclusive and tolerant citizen begin at birth. Until the age of six, your child has an absorbent mind, continuously absorbing everything they see, without filter. When they reach the age of six, their ability to reason and to differentiate between right and wrong begins to develop.
It’s important to talk about diversity and to celebrate our differences from a young age. If you do this, by the time your child is able to reason and to regulate their behaviour, they will intuitively treat others as equals, no matter what their race, appearance or sexuality.
But how do you raise your child to be truly inclusive and accepting of others?
Model inclusive behaviours
First things first, consider your own thoughts and biases. Many of us will have innate biases without even realising it. This doesn’t mean that you deliberately prejudice against others, but beliefs and behaviours can follow us through life unnoticed.
It’s important to examine your own personal beliefs and behaviours to ensure that you’re promoting the same values that you’d like your child to have. Try to be the person that you’d like your child to become – after all, you’re their biggest role model.
Your child’s absorbent mind is always observing you. Your words, actions and behaviours are all being constantly monitored by your child.
Try to ensure that your language is always respectful when talking about people from all backgrounds and avoid reinforcing stereotypes. If you treat all people with equal kindness and respect, you’ll find that your child will grow to do the same.
Your child loves to observe the world with their absorbent mind. This means that they are often keen to notice differences between people, whether this is their physical appearance or their behaviours.
You need to be prepared for your child to ask questions when they pick up on these differences. Children are naturally curious and want to learn about the world around them. It’s important to realise that these questions are not a sign of bias from your child; they are simply observing the differences and taking the time to process them.
However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t sometimes challenging to know how to answer questions about diversity.
If your child asks a question about a difference they’ve noticed, talk about it openly. Avoiding the question could suggest to your child that it’s not acceptable to talk about diversity. Instead, try and provide an honest, age-appropriate answer to their question. For example, if your child asks you why people have different skin colours, you can talk about the chemical melanin in our skin. The more melanin we have, the darker our skin colour will be.
Remember the similarities too
When you’re talking to your child about differences, it’s also important to highlight the similarities between people. Although every person is different, and that’s what makes us unique and special, we all have similarities too.
Every person has hopes and dreams, as well as wanting to connect with people and to be loved. We all make mistakes and we all have successes. We all feel the same emotions.
It’s important to highlight to your child that it’s not our appearances or backgrounds that define us. The way that we treat others and the choices that we make are far more important – and that’s what we should be using to form judgements of people.
Expose your child to different cultures
Teach your child about their own roots, as well as other cultures, religions and ways of life. This will give your child the opportunity to be receptive of those who are different to them and to celebrate diversity, whilst being secure in their own identity.
Children love celebrations, so why not try celebrating some of the festivals that are not within your cultural norm? This could be Chinese New Year, Eid, Hannukah or Diwali. Learning about and getting involved in other cultural celebrations can help to foster respect and open-mindedness for other cultures.
Immerse your child in diversity
If diversity is a central part of your child’s daily life, they’ll grow up to be more accepting and inclusive. One of the easiest ways to expose your child to diversity is through books and stories.
Try to make sure that your child’s book collection includes children with different skin colours, with different family types and children who are differently-abled. This will help your child to experience the diversity of the world around them.
Teach empathy and compassion
Until the age of around six, children are egocentric, meaning that they think the world works from their perspective only. This means that before the age of six, many children will struggle to notice the feelings of others and image how it might feel to be in their position.
You can support your child in developing empathy and compassion by first fostering their own self-esteem. Children who have high self-esteem are more likely to be accepting of others. Rather than following the crowd, they’ll stand up for what they believe is right.
Luckily, the Montessori philosophy is centred around supporting your child to develop independence. By giving your child opportunities to feel capable and competent, you will help to increase their confidence and self-esteem.
By fostering your child’s self-esteem and modelling compassionate behaviours, you can help your child to develop into an empathetic individual.
To sum up
The importance of teaching your child about diversity from a young age cannot be underestimated. Raising your child to be inclusive and accepting of others can feel challenging, but it’s one of the most important things you’ll do as a parent.
The Montessori approach is a great foundation for raising compassionate and tolerant children who will grow up to celebrate the differences in society and welcome diversity with open arms.