Blind to difference

When our son was in preschool, he didn’t seem to see race.

His dad and I were always so proud when he would describe a black person as “the purple guy” because of his purple shirt. His best friend was, in fact, black, and a girl.

What a wonderful world, I thought. Our son, who attended a school far more diverse than I ever did, appeared to be free of gender and racial bias.

What a win!

Then, when he was about 4 years old, he came home from preschool talking about Martin Luther

King Jr. He had spent the day celebrating the man who tried to put a stop to separate drinking fountains — and so much more — for white and black people.

His dad and I were disappointed. Had the daycare teachers — with their well-intentioned curriculum — introduced our son to racial bias? Why did they have to take away his innocence even before kindergarten?

Oh, well, I thought, this is an important history lesson.

It wasn’t until editing this issue — our second-annual Special Needs edition — that I fully realized the daycare teachers were, of course, doing the right thing!

We should have been talking about race and other differences, such as special needs, all along.

In fact, exposing kids to differences and talking about those differences is the first step in fostering the values of acceptance and inclusion in your family, according to Dr. Rachel Tellez, who shares some sage advice in this issue (Embracing different): “The thing is, a lot of us grew up in an era in which we tried to make the case that everyone is the same. We swept difference under the rug and tried to say that we were blind to it all. And now, because of that, we don’t know how to talk about difference and diversity!”

“So,” Tellez writes, “when your child sees diff erence and talks about it, that’s OK. In fact, if your child (by the time he’s 3 or 4) hasn’t brought up that he’s seeing differences, you as a parent should actually make a point to bring it up.”

Right! In other words, not talking about differences (and discouraging our kids from talking about them, too) can backfire.

Doing so “sends the message that the topic is taboo — even though it’s not — and makes your children feel ashamed. It will cause them to stop talking about their feelings with you, and instead keep them inside. It’s when thoughts and emotions become internal that we start developing biases.”

Check out Tellez’s full article to discover tips on how to explore — and celebrate — differences.

Because, as Tellez says, “Indeed, we are all different. Everybody is unique and special and important in who they are.”