You mean a lot to your child and he loves you, so he’ll tend to want to do things like you.
1. Remember that you’re a model for your child. “You mean a lot to your child and he loves you, so he’ll tend to want to do things like you,” says Michelle Marquis, pedagogical and intercultural consultant and co-author of the book for daycares, Éducation interculturelle et petite enfance (Intercultural education and early childhood). So, if you express prejudices or stereotypes out loud, you’ll pass them on to your child. “We sometimes say things without really realizing the impact our words have,” notes Marise Lachapelle, program coordinator for the organization ENSEMBLE for the respect of diversity. “When we generalize with sentences like ‘Black people are like this or like that; Arabs do this or that,’ we send a message that registers in our child’s brain.” Conversely, if we show an openness to people of other nationalities, our child will naturally do the same thing. Showing openness often translates into the simple, little things we do. At daycare or at the park, for example, we can say hello to other parents or talk to them briefly, regardless of their ethnic background. It’s also better to let a child choose his own friends or, for his birthday, to let him invite the friends he has the most in common with, regardless of their last names.
2. Stress the similarities rather than the differences. When your child questions you about other cultures, it’s better to focus on the aspects we all have in common as human beings. For example: “All parents in every country take care of their children.” “Everyone has skin, but it’s not always the same colour,” (you can draw a parallel with the colour of eyes or hair). “Everyone eats, but not necessarily the same thing,” and so on.
3. Foster your child’s love for his own culture. By having a positive image of his own culture, your child will find it easier to respect the culture of others. “No one culture is better than another; there are only different cultures that coexist,” explains Marquis. “When we like and respect our own culture, we don’t feel threatened by others.” For example, you can teach your toddler to enjoy winter by having both of you dress warmly to play outdoors (we live in a Nordic country after all!), cooking local dishes, listening to local musicians, reading books by Canadian authors. “It’s important to make room for our own culture every day, while remaining open to the diversity around us,” concludes Marquis.
4. Arouse his curiosity. Take advantage of the little moments life offers to give your child a taste for diversity. One idea: Sometimes, when you go grocery shopping, buy a fruit or some other food imported from abroad and discover new flavours together. Here’s another: When someone you know leaves to go on a trip, show your child where the country they are visiting is located on a map.
5. Develop empathy. To help your child better understand what others experience, Marise Lachapelle suggests encouraging him to put himself in the other person’s shoes: “If you were him, how would you feel if someone insulted you?” “This will encourage him to be more respectful of differences,” she says.
Help for immigrant families
TCRI, Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes, 514 272-6060, www.tcri.qc.ca – search by region.
Montreal and surrounding areas
ALPA, Accueil Liaison pour Immigrants, 514 255-3900, www.alpaong.com
Casa C.A.F.I. Resource Center for Immigrant Families, 514 844-3340, www.casacafi.org
L’Hirondelle, Services d’accueil et d’intégration des immigrants, 514 281-5696, www.hirondelle.qc.ca
Promotion Intégration Société nouvelle (PROMIS), 514 345-1615, www.promis.qc.ca
Carrefour d’Intercultures de Laval, 450 686-0554, www.carrefourintercultures.com
Maison Internationale de la Rive-Sud, 450 445-8777, www.mirs.qc.ca