Teach your kids to value (and understand) diversity

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Children often question whether I am a "boy" or a "girl". I have short hair and wear loose fitting mens clothing. There is nothing wrong with wondering. Kids will be kids, and I always value their curiosity about the world. If a child asks me I have a whole speech prepared (that I give quite often) about how sometimes girls have short hair and boys have long hair (listing examples if possible) and how all people look and dress differently and that is ok. They are children, they are new to this world and dont understand all that there is to know. When they see a person with a disability, a different colored skin, "funny" clothes or a haircut... anything out of their small world they want to know about it. Children should NEVER be punished for this curiosity! I cannot count the number of times that a parent has yelled at, spanked, or inflicted some other kind of corporal punishment on their child for inquiring about my gender. These kids are learning that it is bad to ask questions and also getting the subconsious message that something is "wrong" with the object of their interest because of the reaction they are getting when they ask about it. And because no one is taking the time to explain differences to them, it is much too easy to grow up ignorant and fall victim to the thought process of many other un-enlightened groups of people.

It is easy to avoid this. Open the lines of communication early. There are great books out there that teach diversity. Todd Parr is probably my favorite author. 'Its Okay to be Different' is a fantastic book to have in any collection. Tell your children to ALWAYS ask if they have a question and to not be embarrassed about it. In order to be effective at this, YOU need to be comfortable talking about things. Its not always easy, but think about the effect it will have on your children in the future and you'll be able to handle it. We took the boys to pride in 2007, when they were 7. Before heading to the parade I explained that they would probably see a lot of things that they had never seen before, and that if they had any questions to ask me. Because Danny is very shy I told them they could just tap my arm and whisper their questions to me. And you know what? They did. They asked questions here and there and accepted most of my answers without protest or further inquiry. And in all honesty, they asked a lot less questions than I expected. Kids are innocent. They take things for face value.

So when your child blurts out "Is that a boy or a girl?", "Why is that lady dressed like that?" or "Why does that man walk funny?" in public, try not to be embarrassed. Answer them to the best of your ability. And dont be afraid to talk to the person. Because in most cases the person in question will not mind educating a child.

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