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Time With Your Kids
My Holidays—My Family—My World

Parents often wonder how to teach young children skills that will help them to live and play in an increasingly diverse society. But what type of skills help young children become tolerant of and respectful to persons of various cultural backgrounds, races, religious beliefs, languages, and physical and mental abilities as well as to members of gender minority groups? Studies show that before we teach children to be tolerant of differences, they first need to develop positive feelings about their own identity. Children develop their identity and attitudes through daily experiences and their social environment.

Why Is This Stage of Development Important?
Children ages 3 to 4 begin to recognize different physical characteristics among people. Children ages 5 to 6 continue to ask questions about physical differences, and they begin to understand the explanations for these differences. It’s important to answer children’s questions about differences within your own family, as well as differences with their peers and other persons in the world around them, in an honest and age-appropriate manner. This approach teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences as long as this discussion is done with respect. Also, demonstrate acceptance of your children's various abilities, interests, and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family. Such acceptance promotes a healthy identity.

At these ages, children strengthen their social skills and can enjoy exploring the various cultures of their friends. The key is to establish your child's positive feelings about his or her own identity from the beginning. From that point, children can start to connect, understand, and appreciate differences with their family members, their peers, their teachers, and other persons in the world around them.

The Winter Holidays for Everyone
The winter holidays are a perfect time to foster acceptance by emphasizing the beauty of cultural similarities and differences.

First, embrace your own holiday; add a new meaning of your family beliefs, customs, and traditions that you and your child can enjoy and celebrate together. Some families may have more than one cultural and religious identity, and the child may be exposed to a variety of ways for celebrating the winter holidays. As young children understand more about their background, they will be able to share their traditions and be proud of themselves and their family’s ways of celebrating the holidays.

Because several holidays are celebrated during this time of year, children have a wonderful learning opportunity. They can observe, participate, and learn about their own holiday as well as other cultures and religious beliefs and about the historical meaning of the holiday season for different family groups or settings. Parents can show their children how other groups of people celebrate their winter holidays. Differences should be often talked about in a positive manner—not hidden, criticized, or seen as something negative. Young children will learn to value diversity and will be proud of themselves and their family’s traditions.  

Remember that when parents encourage positive values and respect for differences, children will follow. Developing tolerance, kindness, and compassion for others is a critical part of young children’s social and emotional well-being. The more that children understand about who they are and where they came from, the more confident they are in integrating with communities different from their own. A positive sense of self is a protective factor for making healthy choices throughout children’s growing years.

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Resources
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families

KidsHealth

National Association for the Education of Young Children
Q  & A with the authors of Anti-Bias Education” presents a list of questions and answers to parents and caregivers about environments that are inclusive, nurturing, and tolerant.

National Geographic for Kids
Winter  Celebrations” provides teachers with information and ideas for discussing how children around the world celebrate the winter holidays.

National Network for Child Care
Activities that Promote Racial and Cultural Awareness” provides parents with ideas on how to incorporate daily activities that promote cultural awareness in children before they reach age 9.

PBSKids.org
Volunteering : How Can I Make A Difference?” presents simple ideas on how to include young children in volunteering during the holiday season.

The Scholastics website provides numerous ways for parents and teachers to work with children on developing tolerance and showing respect to others:

Sesame Street
How  Racial Identity and Attitudes Develop in Young Children” gives parents information on general benchmarks that show how young children develop racial and cultural identity and attitudes. 

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Updated on 12/20/2013