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Diversity Matters: Helping Children Develop Cultural Competence

We now live in a world where diversity often spans past race, and being aware of the various ways that diversity comes into our lives has to be a daily practice. In the series, Diversity Matters, I’ll be sharing insights from mental health professionals about how to discuss a variety of diversity issues with our children.

When it comes to teaching our children about cultural differences we have to look past just race, but also help our children learn to respect and understand that there are many ways that people can be different from each other. In this infographic I talk about the 6 steps you can use to help your child understand cultural differences.

You can view these steps in an inforgraphic here.

Here are the 6 steps in more depth:

  • Teach your child the definition of cultural competency: Cultural competence is having knowledge of people with different cultural backgrounds and being comfortable with those difference. Also, remind your child that culture does not just include race, but also encompasses gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, family structure, and even the food we chose to eat.
  • Be aware of age appropriate ways to explore cultural competency, prejudice, and acceptance: Each age has its own developmental process when it comes to understanding this concept. For younger children, answer their questions about differences as they are just becoming aware of other people. For school aged kids, focus on role modeling and building self esteem in your child who is just starting to understand that race and culture are permanent. For tweens/teens, there will be much dialogue about dominant vs non-dominant and the idea of justice -- be open to their views as they’re coming to terms with injustice and bias.
  • Have a good set of strategies to begin talking to your child about cultural differences: Build into your weekly activities space to talk about what your child is experiencing in the world in terms of culture. Some good tips are: be available to explore their questions, be informative when you answer and take notes if you need to follow up on a question, be receptive and try to hear the undertones of what your child is trying to express, be patient and understand that your child might not pick up on nuances in culture right away, and never assume that your child already knows about a certain cultural issue.
  • Think of ways that you can make learning about cultural differences and building cultural competence fun: For each age group you can find really awesome things to do that will enhance their learning and keep you from lecturing. For younger kids, use music and dance from various cultures to encourage cultural competency. For school aged kids, having them discuss the different proverbs and/or traditions from their culture will help them gain an appreciation of their own and other's culture. And for tweens/teens, I encourage them to get into cultural groups in school or you can take them to different cultural events in your area that allow them to interact with other's outside their culture.
  • Don't always think about teaching tolerance when discussing cultural differences: Most children have an awareness of being fair, and unless taught or modeled cruelty will be unbiased towards others. Challenge your own views about cultural differences when your child asks questions, and if you feel that you cannot be unbiased allow someone else to answer the question for them. Lastly, be aware of media portrayals of differences and discuss with your child that sometimes television shows and movies will exaggerate or make biased judgments of some cultural groups.
  • Have a healthy dialogue about discrimination and what it means to be discriminated against: Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly or less than cultural differences. Explore the impact discrimination has on others, such as feelings of sadness, feeling unworthy, being anxious or fearful of being attacked, trauma from insults and being humiliated, and inability to concentrate for fear of being attacked, talked about, or intimidated. This can be a heavy aspect of talking about cultural differences so I encourage not only talking but also modeling for your child what it means to not discriminate and to have respect for others' differences.
Mercedes Samudio's picture
The Parenting Skill

Mercedes Samudio, LCSW is a family/parent coach who has been working with families for over 6 years helping them achieve results in parent-child bonding, decreasing power struggles, and developing effective discipline strategies that foster strong, nurturing relationships. She received her MSW from the University of Southern California and BA in Psychology from UCLA. You can read more about her parenting philosophy at