Parenting Pathway #110: Awareness

With the arrival of Fall, children are returning to, or beginning, school. There are many opportunities to meet new friends and maintain existing bonds of friendship. As children are being exposed to those who are different from themselves, you may notice your child’s struggle with “awareness.” Awareness, according to Dr. Bruce Perry Medical Director for Provincial Programs in Children’s Mental Health for Alberta, Canada, is the ability to recognize the needs, interests, strengths, and values of others.

Because children are overwhelmed with sensory input from the moment they are born, they must categorize this information to make sense of it. When it comes to understanding others, children will categorize people into terms they can understand. My daughter is beginning the process of exploring her own awareness when she says, “You have yellow hair and I have yellow hair. We match.” And, when she observes, “Toni’s skin is brown and mine is pink.”

Unfortunately, if a child has limited exposure to someone of another ethnicity, body type, skin color, religion, or culture, she will be more likely to keep categorical, and often, inaccurate impressions. And, when a child lacks the ability to be aware of others’ needs and values, she is at risk for developing prejudicial attitudes. Having formed ideas about others without knowing them, she may continue to make categorical judgments: “She speaks English with an accent, so she must be stupid” or “He’s fat, so he must be lazy.” This undeveloped thinking feeds the hateful stereotypes that lead to bullying, teasing and violent behavior.

To support your child in the development of awareness, encourage him to get to know each of the children in his class. Together, seek to discover the many ways in which he is both different and the same as his peers. Integrate a study of differences into your learning at home, through books, art projects, day trips to museums or cultural fairs. As you learn about differences, be conscious to avoid a focus on the surface, stereotypical aspects of them. For example, if studying Native Americans, avoid merely making construction-paper headdresses craft; rather, read about tribal customs, languages, religions, and history. Set an example for your child by developing diverse friendships of your own and openly discussing your appreciation of differences.

Every child should have the opportunity to learn about and interact with others who are different: in ethnicity, religion, language, learning styles, family background, and more. The more you as a parent contribute to an awareness of diversity, the more solid a foundation your child will have to grow into an individual who is proud of her differences and values the differences in others. 

Coaching Inquiries: What example are you setting for the awareness and appreciation of diversity? How could your child’s life be enriched through exposure to something new?

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May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Erika Jackson (
LifeTrek Coaching International
Columbus, OH  •   U.S.A.

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