When I am teaching The Family Program, I am often asked what is the best age to start teaching about acceptance, at what grade should you introduce the concept of others in the world that are different from us. In actuality we all begin learning these values as soon as we start understanding communication, as we are taken out into the world, as we are introduced to the world around us.
The amount of information babies take in in their first year is astounding: the basics of who to trust, understanding what you need and how to get it, learning what makes you happy. The drive for information as children become verbal is like a thirst that cannot be quenched. We all start out like this – how we choose to continue, at what level we strive to learn more is directly affected by the response to our needs at this developmental time in our lives. A child that is listened to, has their questions answered and is engaged in activities at home and out in the world around them will thrive.
If you are wondering when to “start to teach” understanding about those different from ourselves, you have already missed many valuable opportunities. There may also be an underlying construct that “different” applies only to traits such as race, creed or sexual orientation. Children learn compassion and empathy when they understand that we are all different in many ways aside from the obvious – we have different feelings, gifts, talents and personalities. Learning to respect these differences in our homes sets the tone for a person who goes out into the world with an accepting attitude for all.
I remember clearly when our oldest daughter first asked about why people have different skin color. We were not in the city, or on vacation or watching something on tv – we were coloring together with the amazing box of Crayola 64s (with the sharpener built in!). Drawing a picture of our family – Mom, Dad & Jackie. She was about two and a half and wanted to know why she and Mommy were “peach” and Daddy was “sepia”. My first reaction was confusion, then laughter. How perceptive that she knew that to make our family picture look like real life she needed to change crayons. I remember sharing that the world is full of so many amazing colors that sixty four was just the beginning. That people, animals, flowers, the sky, water and so on and so on came in so many different colors that no one could name them all.
That lesson that the world contained more possible colors than even the Crayola 64 was huge for a little girl, and one we talk about to this day. It’s family lore! On vacation I have been known to go from “peach” to “carnation” with too much sun, “apricot” with the right amount of sunscreen. Dad is “sepia” and can tan to “brown”. Was that the moment she became aware that there was so much more to discover, who knows? I do know that a child growing up seeing the world as a wonderful canvas of color, rich with opportunity, is a good thing for all of us.