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Teach kids to respect differences

At this age, toddlers may begin to notice that some people look or act differently than they do. They might even start to ask questions about things like skin color, body size and disabilities, for instance.

It's not too early to answer toddlers in simple and honest ways—and to keep having these important talks.

In fact, these early talks about how people are different and similar can set the stage for you to teach your child to grow up to be kind, respectful and accepting of all people. When your child gets older, this may make it easier to talk about things like racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

Here are a few ways to start:

Talk about it

Let's say you're at the store and your child says something about the color of someone's skin or how they get around. There's no need to feel embarrassed, shush your child or make them feel like what they did was wrong. Your child is simply paying attention and learning about differences.

Here are a few ways you might react in these teachable moments:

  • Give a simple explanation that teaches respect. You might say something like, "We are all different. Isn't that great?" or "People get around in all kinds of ways."
  • Reinforce the message. For example, you might hold your arm against your child's to show how skin tones can be different even in the same family.

Read with your child

Seek out books that explain and celebrate differences. These can help kids learn about other people and their experiences. And they teach kids to be kind. Be sure to pick books that are age-appropriate. Picture books are best for younger kids.

Be a role model

Your child will learn a lot about how to treat people by watching and listening to you. Make sure your own words and deeds fit the messages you want to send. Stay on the lookout for your own biases, too, and be open to learning at every age.

Continue the conversation

These early talks with your child are just the first step. As your child gets older, keep answering their questions honestly—especially as they encounter discrimination in the real world. Point out stereotypes. Listen to their experiences and feelings. And keep teaching them to be kind, respectful and appreciative of all the things that make us different from one another.

Sources: American Academy of PediatricsZero to Three

Reviewed 10/26/2022

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.