Australia is home to one of the oldest continuous cultures, as well as Australians who identify with over 270 ancestries. Our cultural diversity is one of our strengths and an important source of national identity. However, racism remains a destructive force in Australian society. Research shows that social attitudes first take root in early childhood. Children learn prejudice from the grown-ups around them in the same way that they develop language.
Children learn the most by observing the behaviour of adults around them. Children listen carefully to how parents and caregivers speak about different groups in society and may adopt similar attitudes accordingly. Likewise, observing how parents and caregivers interact with different members of society teaches children how to behave around people who are different to them. Parents and caregivers who model kind words and actions set a valuable example for children to follow.
It is important to respond to children’s questions with matter of fact and age-appropriate explanations. Young children are naturally curious and often notice physical differences between people early on. For example, a child may notice that another child at her day care has a darker skin tone and asks you about this. An appropriate response might be, “some people have different skin colour and different eye colour and different hair colour.”
When discussing differences between people, point out and highlight the similarities as well. You can talk about how even though people look different, we all have similar feelings. Encourage children to seek out common interests or likes/dislikes with children who might appear different to them. Sharing something in common, no matter how small, can bring different groups together.
Join in multicultural family events and experiences to learn more about the different cultural or religious groups in your community. Find out how your child’s school or early education centre is celebrating Harmony Week. For details on community events for the whole family, see harmony.gov.au.
As parents and caregivers, you can play an important role in helping children understand, respect, and appreciate cultural diversity.
Article Written + Submitted by
Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator