Teaching diversity to children can be challenging and intimidating for parents. With the current political and social climate of America, it has become more relevant that parents take the initiative to help children understand cultural differences. Our efforts to teach diversity to kids must be intentional and strategic to ensure age appropriate understanding. Dr. Soma Mandal, author of Sonya Sahni and the First Grade, uses storytelling to help kids understand diversity and inclusion, as well as difficult topics such as racism.
What tips do you have for parents to talk to their kids about cultural diversity and acceptance?
It is now more important than ever to discuss cultural diversity and inclusion with our children. Books are a great way to address this topic, since children love to read about things that are different from them. It’s important to have an open and honest conversation with children in language they can understand. Learning about the other kids in your child’s class can help you understand what differences and similarities she may be experiencing within the classroom.
What tips do you have for parents to help their children understand racism and its impact on society?
One way to understand what children may feel about a particular topic (such as racism) is to read about it and then ask questions about what they may feel about certain situations or characters in a book. If there are particular issues occurring in school or in the news, then openly discussing these topics with your child in clear language is very important. Make sure you ask your child what they think can be done to help improve the situation.
Why it is more important than ever that we foster diversity among children?
The world is very divided at this time, as we all know. Children also deal with social politics and need to understand themselves and learn about others. It is what will allow our children to live in a more peaceful and accepting society.
What inspired you to write Sonya Sahni and the First Grade?
I have always aspired to be a children’s author; however, the birth of my daughter inspired me to write a book that I wish had been around when I was a young girl. I want her to be able to grow up in a different sort of way than I did, one where she feels safe and comfortable with who she is.
How can parents foster acceptance and cultural awareness in their children?
I think open communication within families fosters acceptance of others and raises cultural awareness. I know in my own family, we openly discuss issues that our children face in school, whether it pertains to race, teasing or bullying. We also educate our children to be open minded and to be accepting of others. This all starts with a conversation.
How can parents stay aware of social norms in today’s schools?
Be engaged with your school teachers and principal. Find out what is happening in your child’s school and participate as more than a parent. There are all sorts of ways that you can volunteer to learn about your children’s school. Every generation is different. I also think it is important for adults to have an open mind and stay curious about the trends and norms of the next generation. Instead of dismissing certain issues, stay engaged and curious.
What can kids do to be leaders in fostering racial reconciliation?
Face it, it is a small world after all. Our children must learn to deal with different ethnicities and religions than we did as children. This is amazing! I think it is important for parents to inspire their children to get more involved. For example, within New Jersey, where I live, there are pockets of abundance and wealth adjacent to areas of poverty. Why not coach our children to give to others? Kids are resilient and have the best imaginations. They should be offered positions within community organizations and state governments to think of ways to foster relationships within different members of the community.
What can children do to help themselves if they feel lost or out of place in school?
I think that it is our duty as parents, educators, teachers, counselors and principals to allow children an escape button if they feel lost or out of place in school. Confidential counseling should be made available to them and support groups should be in place consisting of peers and teachers to help that child feel more comfortable. It is too easy for a child to get lost within the system, but it is our job to make sure that never happens in the first place.
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SOMA MANDAL, MD is an internist in New Jersey specializing in women’s health. A native New Yorker, she attended NYU for both undergraduate and graduate medical school. However, writing has always been a lifelong endeavor for Mandal. She immersed herself in books and wrote several short stories throughout her life. Her life goal is to combine what she loves to do most: be a mother, physician and writer all in one. Mandal appeared in Inside Jersey Magazine as one of the Top Docs 2016 and will be appearing in the 2017 edition as well.