‘Why Does She Look Different?’: Teaching Diversity to Preschoolers

By Gena Kittner

While riding in her stroller the other day, Ellie held on to the sides and said “Whee! This is my wheelchair!”

Unsure of what to do or how to react, I stopped and asked her what she meant and how she learned about wheelchairs. Instead of answering, in true 3-year-old fashion, she repeated the wheelchair line. So I told her this was her stroller and wheelchairs are for people who need “a little extra help.” Teaching Diversity to Preschoolers and Young Children

I have found this is my go-to phrase when explaining to Ellie certain things we’ve been doing lately — like how we bought Christmas toys for kids we didn’t know, but whose parents “needed a little extra help.” Or why we put money in the Salvation Army kettles or donate toiletries to a local shelter.

But I realize I’m going to have to up my game and find a better response. Ellie’s a smart girl who is starting to notice that people look and act differently. And she’s going to want to know why. And, chances are, she may not pick the most appropriate time or volume of voice in which to inquire.

This got me thinking about a thread from a mommy group I follow on Facebook. Awhile back, a member posted, saying her 3 1/2-year-old is near the age where she notices people who look differently than she does — be it size, race, disabilities, etc. The mom expressed wanting to raise her to be loving and accepting of diversity; however, she wondered how best to respond to these questions when asked in public.

Bingo. I found many of the suggestions about teaching diversity thoughtful and creative. Here are some solutions that you can try when your child asks about differences:

  • Explain that everyone different and “that makes the world beautiful and interesting.”
  • Respond to your child’s inquiries and observations about differences with, “I know! Isn’t that cool?” This tip came from a mom who said her daughter comments on “everything” indiscriminately.
  • Try showing kids this short Elmo video featuring Lupita Nyong’o. During the video they talk about all of the great things about their skin and that skins comes in all different colors and shades.
  • Read People, an award winning book that will help your child understand that it’s OK to be different.
  • Check out the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, which includes a chapter about race. The mom in the Facebook group said, “the main point is let [children] ask and try not to ‘hush’ what we think are embarrassing questions. Acknowledging for kiddos is different than judging. We know about judgement — toddlers are just learning.”

These are great tips, and I’d be curious to hear some more. How do you answer your children when they ask pointed, but perhaps embarrassing, questions about diversity in public? How do you respond in private?


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Teaching Young Kids to be Thankful

By Gena Kittner

Getting a child to say “please” and “thank you” isn’t terribly hard. We demand it. Want some fruit snacks? Say “please.” The Target lady just gave you a sticker, what do you say?

But what I’ve been pondering, as the season of thankfulness is upon us, is how we teach our kids to mean it.

In other words, how do we teach young kids to be thankful?

How to teach toddlers, preschoolers, and young children thankfulness, kindness, and gratitude | Thanksgiving | Holiday Season

Clearly struggling myself, I’ve turned to some of my awesome mommy friends for advice and inspiration.

“Part of our bedtime routine is to talk about what we are thankful for that day,” said Kirsten, mom to 3-year-old Emma. I met Kirsten in my first mom’s group in Madison, Wisconsin. “[Emma] mostly uses the time as a way to talk about what she liked best during her day, but then we talk about how fortunate she is to be able to have what she has and hope that we can instill a sense of gratitude.”

I love this idea. I used to include in Ellie’s bedtime routine a time when we talked about all the cool things we did that day. Lately I’ve been bypassing this in an effort to expedite bedtime, but I think it’s time to slow things down and do a nightly thankfulness recap.

Rachael, a fellow mom I met during my daughter Ellie’s gymnastics class in Tuscon, has two daughters: 4-year-old Aliyah and 2-year-old Sydney. While it’s not thankfulness exactly, Rachael tries to reaffirm kindness whenever her daughters show it.

“When they do something nice for each other I really praise them,” Rachael said.

To me, kindness and thankfulness go hand-in-hand, and I think too often we focus on what our kids should be doing and don’t give them credit for the small acts of kindness they exhibit every day.

When discussing teaching young kids to be thankful, the conversation unfailingly turns to the dreaded thank-you notes. We all understand the importance of the traditional hand-written missives, but when parents are doing most of the writing, how much are our kids really learning?

My sister-in-law Anne has two boys, ages 5 and 8, who both have birthdays in October. This time of year she’s drowning in thank-you notes.

There’s talk among friends, Anne says, about the merits of a thank you form letter. It would go something like this:

Dear _______,

Thank you for coming to my party and for the awesome ________. It was kind of you to think of me.

Sincerely, _________

Some find this too informal or a thank-you note cop-out, but for a kid like Doug, who is 8 and actually can fill in the blanks, it might be more meaningful than having him simply sign his name to notes largely written by his parents, Anne said.

I fully endorse this idea. Bring on the thank-you form notes, you’ll never get an eye-roll from me.

One thing we do in our home is talk about who gave Ellie the toys she’s playing with or the cool shirt she’s wearing. We hope by reminding her who gave her these gifts, it will help her understand these are special things, and she has family and friends who love and care about her.

Sometimes she remembers, sometimes she doesn’t. Either way we’re having the conversation, and I think that’s often the best parents can do.


photo-3Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous guest posts on Mommy Sanest.