Raising diplomatic kids in a diverse world

As politics become more divided and our world becomes more diverse, the ability to get along and talk with others who don’t look like us, act like us, or think like us is more important than ever for today’s kids. The word that sums up what it takes to bridge these divides is diplomacy. Diplomacy demands that kids understand their viewpoint is not the only one that holds value, and that when they are right, others are not automatically wrong. Diplomacy requires a slew of interpersonal skills including respect, tolerance, empathy, communication, humility, politeness and tact. These skills are not easy to come by, and often demand guidance from you, the parent. Here are some simple ways to help your kids learn to be diplomatic so they can succeed not only in their immediate world of school, home and friends, but in the grander world around them, now and in the future.

1. Respecting differences and practicing tolerance

A base for diplomacy is accepting that it takes all kinds of people to make up the world, and that differences are not only expected, but also welcomed. Young kids tend to think everyone feels the same as they do, and that life is basically the same for everyone. Spaghetti is their favorite food, so everyone must love it. They live in a house, so everyone else does, too. 

“Young children have a hard time seeing others points of view,” says Dr. Usha Udupa, a child psychiatrist with UCHealth’s Mountain Crest Regional Behavioral Healthcare Center in Fort Collins. 

Help kids stand in other people’s shoes with perspective-taking outings. For example, you could ride the city bus if it’s something you normally don’t do, or attend a cultural event that shows different customs and traditions from yours. Point out how people who look or act differently than you often have the same feelings or wants and needs as you.  

 “Kids in general are afraid of what they’re not familiar with—anyone who looks differently or talks differently makes kids feel uncomfortable. It’s less an issue of racism and more an issue of feeling comfortable. Teach your kids that when someone is different it’s not wrong, just interesting, by exposing them to different races and cultures whenever you can,” Udupa advises.

If you want a child who shows respect to others, don’t tolerate mean or rude behavior. Let your kids know that such behavior is not okay. Always impose a consequence for hitting, name-calling, and swear words. 

Also, if you witness your child being rude or judgmental with another child, step in. Make your child aware of his behavior in a gentle way. To help him understand, Udupa suggests pointing out how other kids react to his actions. For example, if he makes fun of the way a friend plays a game, you could say, ‘When you criticize Jack, he looks sad and gets quiet.’ Or, if he won’t share, you could say, ‘When you don’t share, Jack says he wants to go home.’

2. Showing empathy

Empathy basically means standing in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from their point of view. Share your world with your kids, and show them firsthand what it’s like to be sad, disappointed, worried, or filled with joy. Let them know you understand what it feels like to fail, to be on the outside of a group, or to be at the top of your game by sharing stories from your own life. 

Empathy is both a learned skill and an innate personality trait. If your child doesn’t seem to have emotional antennas that pick up on how others are feeling, don’t fret.

“We are all born with a certain temperament. Some kids naturally internalize and feel other kids’ feelings. Others need guidance from parents or other adults to recognize how another child might feel. All kids are capable of empathy, whether it comes naturally or not,” Udupa says. 

Foster empathy by helping your child recognize what she and others are feeling, and connecting it to an action. For example, you can say, ‘Look, your little brother is sad because he lost his snuggly. He must really miss it. Let’s go help him find it.’ When she helps, praise her for her kind actions.

3. Encourage politeness and patience

Politeness teaches patience. To be polite, your kids have to sit and wait their turn or listen to their Grandpa’s long-winded story without interrupting—skills that will come in handy as they sit through class at school, listen to their friends’ problems, or wait in the lunch line at school. 

Politeness and patience are building blocks of diplomacy. They are what make other people feel heard and respected. They are important for making friends and maintaining meaningful relationships. When kids are rude or interrupt, others avoid them. When kids don’t smile and greet someone in a polite way, they don’t make a good impression on others. That’s why it’s okay to insist your kids say thank you and please, and hello and goodbye, in daily interactions.

Your kids look to you to know how to respond to the world, so it’s best to consider your own manners. Are you polite to strangers by opening doors and stopping to aid them when needed? Do you patiently wait in line at the grocery store or do you complain when someone is too slow? 

4. Teach humility

Some experts say that parents who are overly fixated on their child’s wellbeing send the message that the wellbeing of others isn’t as important. They feel that by making our kids little kings and queens and reinforcing that how they feel and what they are experiencing is of utmost importance, we give them a false sense of greatness.  

To keep your kids humble, practice saying no to their every request. Resist giving in when they whine for a treat in the store, or throw a fit about getting ready to go out. Besides helping your kids learn the diplomatic skill of accepting someone else’s will and direction, you are also teaching them how to cope when things don’t go their way. 

“Providing instant gratification is a disservice, not only immediately, but in the long term as well,” Udupa says.

5.  Practice good communications skills

Promoting good communications skills often comes back to manners. That’s because the same skills needed to be polite come in handy while communicating. Being polite demands that kids take turns, negotiate differences, and listen while someone else is talking. The dinner table is a great place to practice these skills: When your child interrupts, ask him to wait until you finish speaking. If he talks non-stop, say, ‘It’s your brother’s turn to talk.’ Doing so teaches him that turn-taking is part of a conversation. 

Don’t forget to model good listening. When your daughter talks to you, look her in the eyes, and listen. Stop what you are doing and be present. Reflect back what she’s saying to you. Offer comfort, respect her opinion, and join in on her joy.

How to negotiate

Isaac Newton said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Along with diplomacy comes the ability to negotiate. If you practice these steps when negotiating with your kids, you’ll not only have better outcomes, you’ll also teach them the valuable skill of settling differences in a positive way.

1. Don’t talk until you’re both calm

2. Step back and consider the facts

3. Take turns talking without interrupting

4. Consider the other person’s point of view 

5. Start your statements with “I” vs. “You” and use open-ended questions 

6. Find a solution where you both win