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Diversity And Kids - Top 6 Tips For Parents

by Samantha on May 22, 2014

kids diversity

“Mom, why does she look different?”

This is a question that many of us have had to grapple with as we raise our kids in an increasingly multicultural and multiethnic society. As a person on colour myself, I’ve been on the receiving end of the question and can still remember an incident (one of many) that happened to me as a child.

I was about eight or so, and was leaving a large department store with my mother. Another child, about the same age as me, saw me, turned to her mother, pointed at me and asked “Why is she Black?”

The mother looked mortified, said “SHHHH!!!” and quickly scurried the child out of the store. I was left standing there with my own mother feeling confused and ashamed, though I wasn’t sure why. My mother, thankfully, spoke to me about why people would have questions and that curiosity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Oftentimes, questions such as this are a starting point for some very important discussions that parents can have with their children.

It’s all about how we as parents handle these types of situations when they occur. Our responses are going to set the stage for how our own children behave in future. “Monkey see, monkey do,” as they say. For this reason, it’s so important to instill not only an understanding of other cultures and ethnicities, but a respect and interest and celebration of them as well.

Living in Toronto, I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible range of these cultures and ethnicities. It’s one of the things I love about the city and appreciate that my children have had the opportunity to be learn about diversity. Unfortunately, not all places are as diverse and there are still situations where children are being faced with being the object of another child’s questioning, just as I was so many years ago.

For parents who are trying to raise children who are more culturally and ethnically aware, regardless of their locale, there are some things that can be done. Following are six tips for parents who want to raise kids who have an appreciation for diversity.

Diversity and Kids - Top 6 Tips For Parents

1) Friends Not Foes - There’s nothing like a good friendship to make a child want to learn more about a person’s culture. Children are naturally curious and are drawn to new people and ideas. Encourage your kids to have relationships with a variety of peers from different backgrounds and ethnicities. The opportunity for learning and understanding as well as making a new pal will be well worth it.

2) Food For Thought - Are you stuck in a Meatloaf Monday or Taco Tuesday treadmill? If so, how about mixing things up a bit and exposing your child to some other food options? Having different foods around the house and serving them for meals is a great way of teaching kids about other cultures. Check out some different recipes from other cultures online or invest in a cookbook that specializes in meals from around the world. Your child will likely love it and it will give you a starting point for discussions about diversity.

3) The Inside Story - Reading is always a great activity for kids and in this case, even more so. Go to your local library with your child and check out some books that highlight other cultures. These can include historical and factual-type books as well as anthologies that combine cultural tales and stories. For smaller kids, help them choose picture books at the library and read cultural stories with them. They’ll appreciate the novelty of the stories and will be more likely to remain interested.

4) Talk the Talk - There’s nothing like immersing oneself in another language to fully understand the nuances of a culture. Of course it’s somewhat different for a child, but getting children interested in speaking a new language is a great first step towards diversity appreciation. Whether it’s through classes at school or taking lessons after school or on weekends, language is a great portal to understanding another culture.

5) Lead by Example - As parents, we have a job to do and one of them is realizing that our children will follow the examples we set. If we convey negative or suspicious attitudes about other cultures and ethnicities, our kids will pick up on these and replicate our behaviour. “Monkey see, monkey do” is real so keep this in mind and remember to convey a positive and open attitude about other cultures, particularly around your children.

6) Culture Club - Fairs, festivals, events - these are all great opportunities to open up your child’s understanding of those from other backgrounds. Wherever possible, attend cultural and ethnic celebrations with your children and expose them to some of the great traditions that so many celebrate. Take your kids to culturally-focused events and immerse them in the customs of others. By doing so, your child will have a greater appreciation for others and will learn something in the process as well.

To read this article on HUFFINGTON POST, click here.

How do you teach your child about diversity and other cultures? What advice do you have for other parents who want to expose their children to other cultures and ethnicities? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below!

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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Back to School Stress

by Samantha on September 10, 2013

back to school stress

The lazy,  hazy days of summer have passed and the kids have returned to school.

It may be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for parents but for kids, this is not necessarily the case.

More often than not, back to school signals the beginning of a very stressful time.

Regardless of age or grade, returning to school can be anxiety-causing, to say the least. Between homework, bullies and the fear of not succeeding in class, is it any wonder that our kids are stressed-out? And don’t fool yourselves: this anxiety is not only the domain of the young. Older kids - teens and university or college-bound students - have their fair share of worry about what the coming semester will bring as well. For those going off to university and living in residence for the first time, “back to school” is a whole other ball of wax, and a stressful one at that.

I returned to CBC’s studios to discuss this subject and provide some simple advice and tips for parents and kids who are dealing with back to school stress. Following is the audio of the full interview as well as some of the questions and answers that were discussed (click to listen).

Back to School Stress - How to Help Kids Deal With Anxiety

1) What are some of the key causes of back-to-school stress for kids?

There are many but some of the ones that seem to cause the most stress are the spectre of homework and studying, bullies/bullying, separation anxiety for younger kids and for middle school and high school kids, peer pressure and popularity.

2) Things move fast in this day and age—do you think today’s kids are more stressed than in previous years?

I think that kids today have a lot more on their plates. We live in an information age and as a result, they have information coming to them from a multitude of different sources. In some ways this can add fuel to the fire as they have more input on how things may or may not work out well, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Add to this the very real problem of cyberbullying by school peers and it’s no wonder that some kids are stressed.

3) How does back to school anxiety and stress manifest itself for kids of different ages and grades?

There are many factors that add to kids stress, and they’re different for each age and grade. For elementary school kids, some of their primary fears are separation anxiety (kindergarten and first-graders), homework, studying, fear of the unknown, and having to deal with the structure of a full day of school. Gone are the lazy dog days of summer and that’s a hard lesson to experience for some kids. For middle and high school students, cyberbullying is unfortunately a very real problem, as the Internet, digital communication and social media makes it very easy to bully and tease certain classmates. Older kids also worry about their grades, making the track or soccer team or other extra-curricular activities that are important to them. One other issue is sleep - older kids often have difficulty getting back into a scheduled routine where they have to get up early and head out the door for school. Ironically, worrying about sleep often results in not being able to sleep.

4. You’re a mother yourself…how challenging is it to get your kids to TALK to you about their school-related anxieties?

It’s challenging, alright. My twin boys are 4 and just started Kindergarten, so my husband and I had a good talk with them about what to expect. We toured the classroom before they started last week, so they were pretty prepared. As well, they’ve been in daycare so they’re not completely immune to the whole “structured” environment of school. My nine-year-old daughter was feeling somewhat anxious, more about being prepared for the first day, not knowing who her teacher was or classmates were, that type of thing. Again, I found that being open and creating an environment where she could voice her stresses was really helpful. We talked through all of the various things that were on her mind well before school started so by the time the first day back rolled around, she was excited, not scared.

5) What can parents do to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses associated with going back to school?

There are a number of things that parents can do. Firstly, parents of stressed kids should talk to their children and make themselves available to hear their children’s concerns and fears. Sometimes just knowing that your parent is taking the time to listen can be a huge help to kids. As well, parents can take some concrete steps to alleviate fear of the unknown - for younger kids, taking the kids to school and speaking to the teacher about what’s on the curriculum agenda for the school year can help. Parents can then discuss homework or class work plans and expectations and listen to their kids concerns, perhaps offering solutions in the process. Preparing your kids for their days in school, whether that means helping them stock their knapsack, planning their wardrobe or helping them with homework - all of these actions show the child that their parents care and that they’re there for their kids during this stressful time. Finally, teaching a child to trust their own abilities and to be confident in who they are - this is key to kids ultimately being able to handle any situation that’s put in front of them. Learning how to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety through active mindfulness - whether it’s meditation in the classical sense, or just supporting the child having some quiet “down time” will do wonders for the child’s overall sense of well-being, regardless of their age. Recent studies in the U.K. have shown that teaching kids mindfulness techniques to be used in the classroom have been successful in addressing kids’ anxiety and stress.

6) How about teachers? What are their responsibilities in alleviating their students’ stress?

Most teachers want to have a classroom full of anxiety-free kids, so I know that they do their part to make it as comfortable as possible. Similar to what parents are doing, teachers can create an open and welcoming environment in the classroom that encourages kids to discuss their feelings and concerns. As well, teachers can facilitate a classroom where two-way communication and interactivity amongst students and with the teacher is the standard. Doing so will go a long way in making the kids feel comfortable and less anxious.

7. We haven’t talked about the stress that college and university students can face…especially first year students. They’re often some distance from home. Any thoughts on how parents can help in these situations?

Again - fear is of the unknown is often the reason behind feelings of anxiety and stress. Not unlike the strategies used with younger kids, older students can benefit from having discussions with their parents as well. If first-year students are in residence and living away from home for the first time, make yourself available to them - perhaps more available than you usually would. They may already be in their new dorm room and feeling stress, so keep those lines of communication open. Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time - these are all technological tools that allow parents and kids to remain connected over distance. As well, help your child research their support options at their actual school. These may include guidance counsellors, peer or student groups or similar community resources. A lot of colleges and universities set up student support groups and assign student leaders to shepherd the new students through the first few weeks. Help your child find these resources and always let them know that you’re there for them, in spite of the distance.
What strategies do you recommend for alleviating back to school stress with your kids? What works best? Provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

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Why I’m NOT Friends With My Child

by Samantha on June 23, 2013

For some strange reason, parenting has changed.

Perhaps it’s an inevitability of time, but holy smokes, some things should remain sacred, shouldn’t they?

I’m talking about kids, parents and the relationship between the two. It seems that there’s a lot more of a comfort level between mothers, fathers and their kids that, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. The once-expected and respected boundary between a parent and their child was clearly defined and visible for all to see. Now? Not so much. It’s become “cool” to be “friends” with your kids. After all, celebrities seem to do it all the time. Just think about Dina Lohan and her daughter Lindsay or Drew Barrymore and her famous hard-partying ways as a youngster, which seemed to be sanctioned by her mom.

Go to the park or take your child to a play date these days and your child’s friend may very well call you by your first name. This is the norm much of the time, yet when I was a child, it was unheard of to speak to any adult in what was perceived to be such a “familiar” fashion. It was always “Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So,” and first names of adults were rarely known - let alone used - by anyone younger than 18.

Yet now, this familiarity is accepted as “the way it is,” along with other formerly verboten words or activities. Some examples:

    • Parents and children going to PG or R-rated movies together - In these instances, the parent seems to see no problem in sitting through often violent, sexual or otherwise inappropriate content with their child.
    • Parents and kids playing “Mature” or PG-rated video games separately or together - If done separately, the parent has given the child approval to play the game.
    • Parents taking their kids shopping and giving the kids considerable decision-making regarding purchases - The mom or dad may be footing the bill but the child is often calling the shots.
    • Parents taking their kids to adult-only functions despite the inappropriate nature of the event - Haven’t we all seen kids at late-night functions, adult-themed concerts or events, or similar, and wondered what positive value that the child was getting from their attendance?

Sometimes it’s an instance of a parent trying to recapture their youth. Other times it’s a precocious child testing their mettle, with the parents clearly following along behind them. The tail wagging the dog, so to speak.

This is just plain wrong, and I’ll tell you why.

Children need a strong role model. They need boundaries and they need to know the difference between right and wrong.

Kids look up to their parents of beacons of intelligence (as wrong as they may be in some instances). Our answers have weight, and our guidance has merit. We are, after all, their first and, depending on their age, their only role models. What does it do for their confidence in our guidance when we are perceived to be unsure about what we’re telling them? How can they grow up to have the strength of their convictions when we clearly don’t have the strength of our own? Like all of us, we want to feel like there is someone in our lives who has all of the answers and who doesn’t waver in their convictions. For us adults, it’s another friend, for our kids, it’s us.

It’s never good to be “friends” with your child. After all, inherent in the idea of “friendship” is the concept that both parties are on equal footing. Call me old school, but my children are not on equal footing with me, as I am their mother. At the end of the day, what I say goes, and it’s not negotiable. If it wasn’t this way how on earth could I expect them to listen to me when they’re older, in their teens and dealing with more serious and life-changing decisions? If my advice had no value, weight or importance, it would be easy to imagine how they could make the wrong choices and go down the wrong path. I shudder to think about the consequences.

“It’s never good to be ‘friends’ with your child. After all, inherent in the idea of ‘friendship’ is the concept that both parties are on equal footing. Call me old school, but my children are not on equal footing with me, as I am their mother.”

As times have changes, so have our ideas about relationships between the generations. In many ways we’ve come a long way in terms of how we both view and treat children today. The old “spare the rod and spoil the child” adage that was once considered a standard tool of parenting has, for the most part, disappeared - and thankfully so. Ditto for the concept of a child being “seen but not heard.” These concepts seem archaic now, as we realize the importance of treating our children with respect, as well as listening to their ideas and concerns. We’ve come a long way in that we now realize that in order for our children to flourish and grow into confident and happy adults, we need to provide them the environment in which they feel supported, understood and loved.

That being said, it’s a long haul to equate this fostering of our childrens’ collective spirits in a positive way for the purposes of building their confidence, and being their “BFF” to whom they casually relate to in a most cavalier and sometimes disrespectful manner.

No, children need to look up to their parents and have some degree of reverence and respect for them in order to truly take home the lessons that their mothers and fathers try so hard to teach them. For this and many other reasons, I won’t be revealing my deepest, darkest feelings to my elementary-school aged child any time soon.

How do you feel about parents being “friends” with their kids? Do you think it’s a good idea? Why or why not? Answer in the comments below!

To read this article on Huffington Post, CLICK HERE.

Image courtesy of www.fanshare.com

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