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I'm Unique: Teaching Your Toddler to Value Differences

You can begin to battle the influence of bias in our culture by teaching your toddler to value differences. One way to start is by encouraging your child to appreciate her own uniqueness.


You can introduce your child to the notion of differences by starting within your own family. Do different members of your family have different color hair (black, brown, blonde, red, grey, white)? Different texture of hair (curly, straight, thick, wispy)? Different color eyes (brown, blue, hazel)? Acknowledging and valuing the diverse physical traits within your family can help your child appreciate diversity outside the family, too.

How is your child special? She's two years old. She has a particular hair color, eye color, and skin color. Her ancestors have a specific cultural heritage. (Sharing stories of people—family members, historical figures, or contemporary role models—from your ethnic group of whom you feel proud can also build an appreciation of your child's cultural heritage.) Your toddler also has a distinctive name, which may reflect some family history or cultural background.

Defining the ways in which your child is unique or special is a great way to encourage her to value differences because toddlers love talking and learning about themselves. By talking in a positive way about your toddler's physical characteristics and cultural heritage, you will help her build a positive sense of self. And if she learns to value what makes her different from others, your toddler will be more open to the notion of appreciating the differences of others as well.

No Teasing or Insults

If you want to nip prejudice in the bud, don't let your child ever insult, tease, or reject another person because of race, gender, or ethnicity. Make it a family rule-one that you, of course, observe as well as your child—that you cannot tease, insult, or reject other people for who they are. Attacks on another person's identity simply cannot be allowed.

If you do hear your toddler tease or insult someone because of their gender or race (or if you hear another child teasing or insulting your toddler), step in immediately. Remaining silent will only give your child (or the other child) permission to repeat it and to go on hurting others. Just as you would if your toddler had physically hurt another child, comfort and reassure the injured child first. While doing so, make sure your child knows that you disapprove of what he did. You may choose to discipline such bias attacks just the way you would discipline violence or physical attacks.

At the same time, however, try to find out what underlies the insult. Chances are it didn't come out of the blue. If another problem, like having trouble sharing or difficulty taking turns, underlies the slur, then teach your child to address the problem directly, rather than attacking the person's race or gender. Help your toddler see that the other child's gender or skin color or ethnic background has nothing to do with the sharing problem. If fear of people who are different is an underlying factor, then you'll need to come up with some activities that will increase your child's opportunity to interact with other children who are racially or culturally different.

More on: Preschool

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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