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How to diversify your child's toy box and bookshelf this holiday

This holiday season, consider these inclusive gift ideas.

We’re almost at the end of one of the longest years ever. Emphasis on almost — before we can move on into 2021, there’s a pared-down holiday season to navigate.

Consider it an opportunity: This year’s holiday gift exchange could be the perfect chance to add some diversity to your child’s toy box and/ or bookshelf. Talk of racial equality, inclusion, and cultural sensitivity have dominated conversations in boardrooms and on social media in 2020, and choosing multicultural gifts this holiday season could be one way to keep that conversation going at home. Here are some of our favorite gift ideas for kids.

In this article:

Add new representation to the toy box

Take a look at your child’s toy selection to see what types of people are and aren’t being represented. If the toy box is looking a bit homogenous, you could go on the hunt for some diverse faces to add to the collection for the holiday season.

Olivia L. Baylor, a mental health therapist in Maryland, says it’s a good idea to introduce children to races and cultural differences at a young age. “[This can] include having dolls with a range of skin complexions and body proportions as well as [dolls that show] different disabilities.

Decades ago, you might have been hard-pressed to find dolls of different races, let alone ones that weren’t thin and rocking washboard abs. Today, Mattel makes dolls with different shapes, sizes, and skin tones; there are even dolls with prosthetic limbs and in wheelchairs for your little ones to play with. Marvel also makes action figure families of various races and with different physical disabilities. When it comes to kids toys for a holiday gift, try using this special occasion as a way to broaden their horizons.

On the flip side, if dolls or toys of a child’s race are underrepresented in their toy collection, consider gifting more toys that look like them. “For many African American children, what they experience is not being able to love their hair because they’re used to dolls that have straight hair and fair skin,” says Baylor. Owning dolls with their own hair textures and features can help promote self-love and appreciation for their attributes.

Choose main characters of color

Fortunately, not being able to find multicultural stories is no longer a barrier. Amazon has multicultural children’s books from many authors. Or, if you prefer to support small businesses, consider one like Multicultural Bookstore and Gifts, a California-based shop that sells book bundles with diverse characters online.

Looking for a few books to add to your holiday shopping list? “Fry Bread” by Kevin Noble Maillard is a Native American family story about making meals and creating memories. “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry tells a story about a relationship between a young Black girl and her father who’s styling her hair for a special event.

While shopping for books the perfect gift for your little ones, Baylor says it’s important to make sure you’re introducing multicultural toys and stories that represent other cultures in a respectful and positive way. This was the goal that Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche had in mind when she wrote her book, “Happy Birthday Mali Moore,” a financial literacy book for children.

“Visually, this book represents an underreported illustration of the Black family,” says Aliche, author and financial educator. Mali, the main character of the book, and her family are depicted as a happy and successful Black family that has darkskin and coily hair, which hasn’t always been represented in media.

If you’re looking for books for young kids that tackle the topic of race and racism head-on, there’s “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi, a vibrant picture book that discusses the concept and how children and parents can address the issue. “Speak Up” by Miranda Paul is a unique children’s book that encourages children to challenge rules and speak up for themselves and others.

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Look for toys and games that explore new cultures

If your child likes trivia or games (and hey, what kid doesn’t?), they might enjoy these interactive activities that teach them about new cultures.

For example, WompleBox is a multicultural monthly subscription box for kids that explores new worlds and comes with maps, a country guide, stickers, and more. “We introduce kid-characters that are from other cultures: a young Maasai from Tanzania, a First Nations girl from Canada, [and] a Gaucho from Argentina,” says Alejandro Bras, co-founder of Womple Studio.

Bras finds that kids easily relate to other kids no matter where they’re from. And through the activities, kids can gain an appreciation for how others live.

Know that kids may have questions, and that’s okay

When opening multicultural gifts, young kids may point out differences that you don’t have to shy away from. Baylor says that questions about race are an opportunity to have a discussion with the family about their thoughts, and you can explain that differences do exist but that they aren’t bad.

When to broach the specific topic of race and racism with your children is a personal choice. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, most U.S. adults say around five is the right age to start talking about race with kids. However, research has found kids begin to notice race in infancy and can even develop negative racial beliefs by preschool age.

Early conversations at home can help prepare children to be accepting of racial and cultural differences, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Diverse and multicultural gifts from yourself (or Santa) could provide an opportunity for them to ask questions and for you to encourage kindness and compassion for all people. And, especially this year, that sense of empathy might just be the greatest gift of them all.

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About Taylor Medine

Taylor Medine is a personal finance writer who's covered all things money for the last six years. Her work has appeared on Business InsiderCredit KarmaMSNUSA Today, and much more.

Read more by Taylor Medine

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