How and when to help children understand people’s differences effectively | St. Louis Public Radio

How and when to help children understand people’s differences effectively

Jan 16, 2018

How can children learn to respect other people’s identities and differences in the world?

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about how parents, grandparents, other relatives and caregivers can help young children understand and appreciate differences in other human beings, families and communities.

Joining the discussion were Tabari Coleman, project director of the Anti-Defamation League’s A World of Difference Institute, and Stephen Zwolak, CEO of LUME Institute and executive director of  the University City Children’s Center.

Zwolak said concepts of understanding start imbedding at infancy. Coleman said understanding doesn’t mean ignoring another’s differences, but rather recognizing and accepting them.

“Be matter of fact with a child, [do not] avoid the situation,” Coleman said. “When we don’t have an honest conversation, what we do is we prepare them to avoid those conversations when they get older.”

Zwolak said the role of schools is more influential than ever. Between 75 and 80 percent of children under the age of five are in someone else’s care outside the home for 40 or more hours a week. He made the case that in order to influence children, “we have to influence teachers.”

That is done by having teachers recognize and become comfortable with their biases in order for them to have authentic, teachable learning moments.  

“There’s nothing more beautiful than learning side-by-side with a child around those discomforts. If we can do those pieces well, we can really bring families into the mix because it’s a triatic relationship,” Zwolak said.

Coleman and Zwolak emphasized that conversations of understanding also need to happen in the home. Coleman said the word “hate” often alienates people from the discussion because many feel they do not relate to that extreme.

“[But] I think it’s those subtle things that what we do and don’t do that eventually can transform into negative thinking about different groups of people,” he said. Who a parent surrounds the child with and associates with influences what the child will eventually see as “the other.”

Listen to the full discussion:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.