I'm Unique: Teaching Your Toddler to Value Differences

In this article, you will find:

Talking about stereotypes

Seeking Out Difference

Start by trying to expose your child to a variety of influences in your community. Get to know people of different races, religions, and cultural backgrounds. Then let your toddler get to know their children. After all, you can't expect your child to make friends with people of different races and cultures if you don't do the same.

If you live in a largely homogenous community, you can expose your child to different races and cultures by stocking up on books, videos, dolls, toys, and posters or photos that show people of different races, genders, and physical abilities engaged in a variety of activities. A diversity of images of males and females, whites and blacks, and people of all races will broaden your child's appreciation of both similarities and differences without glossing over the subject.


Your local children's librarian can probably help you find a good selection of multicultural books (and perhaps videos, too).

You also can expose your child to people of different races and cultures by carefully choosing television programs that present characters with different backgrounds. Like all toddlers, your child will enjoy watching kids like her on TV. Unless you're white, however, this may be difficult on most shows—especially shows on commercial television. Though many children's television programs do offer either stereotypes or limited diversity, if you look, you will find several good programs (mostly on public television) that do present differences in a positive light. Shows like Sesame Street, Barney & Friends, and Reading Rainbow, for example, feature multicultural casts and features that will expose your child to many different cultures.

Playing with Gender Roles

You also can help build resistance to bias by encouraging your child to engage in activities that go beyond or go against traditional sex-role stereotyping. Sex-role stereotyping often begins with the purchase of toys for toddlers. When you buy a push toy to help steady your toddler's walking, do you automatically gravitate toward the shopping cart or vacuum if you have a girl or the truck or lawn mower if you have a boy? Why not try buying the reverse? Boys can enjoy shopping too; and girls can have fun mowing the lawn.

Similarly, both boys and girls can both take care of "babies" (dolls), "cook a meal" (with a toy kitchen), and "fix things" (with a toy tool box). Encourage your child to explore all the opportunities open to her or him. Remember that you're teaching the future mothers and fathers of the world. Don't you want your son as much as your daughter to grow up to be a nurturing parent? Likewise, as he or she grows older, won't you want your child to be independent enough to cook a meal for himself or fix a broken bicycle herself? You can nurture interest in these activities by deliberately rejecting gender stereotypes in choosing toys and play for your toddler or preschooler-and in the roles you play in your own home.

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