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Why #ToysLikeMe Won't Teach Your Kids About Diversity

27/05/2015 12:19 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

If you're on the #toyslikeme bandwagon and outraged that dolls and toys fail to represent cultural, physical and mental diversity, don't blame the toys.

Blame the adults who believe toys are all it takes to teach children about diversity, and who, more often than not, fail to talk about diversity - unless of course, they or a close family member, are experiencing it first hand.

As a teacher turned toy-hunter, I am amazed at how easy it is to find another toy to entertain our kids. Over the years, I've seen toys become more complicated, more electronic, and now more PC, in place of conversation and experience.

Don't get me wrong, a toy is a great tool for teaching kids. But I bet you my baby boy's first tooth that the new PC toys that are hitting the market right now will, like all the toys before them, change nothing unless we change the stories we, the adults, tell about diversity.

Because your kids don't give a hoot about diversity, it doesn't phase them. For adults on the other hand...ooh, difference is awkward.

Take this film created by French advocacy group Noémi Association, Why All People Should Be Viewed Through The Eyes of a Child. Watch as parents and children sit side by side, separated by a partitioned wall, to watch a movie of people pulling silly faces. They are told to copy the faces. All's fine until you get to the disabled kid pulling a face. The kids imitate. The adults look uncomfortable, sad, full of pity.

Adults find it more difficult than children to accept people who are different to themselves. During my time as a teacher in mainstream schools in a predominantly white, Christian area of South West London, this is how children reacted to other children:

Different coloured skin? No problem, let's play.

Wearing a hijab? That's cool, let's play.

Only one hand? No worries, let's play.

Wear a hearing aid? Cool! Let's play.

So while I think it's fantastic dolls and toys are being created that represent diversity, and are providing children with disabilities an opportunity to relate to figures that actually look like them, if you're buying these toys to teach diversity, I caution haste before buying another toy that teaches another lesson your children may already understand - better than yourself.

Far better, in my experience, are conversations about diversity and equality. Toys develop many important life skills, but the stories your children create around those toys, the attitudes they bring to the playroom, they are a direct result of their environment and your responsibility.

Before you bring a PC-perfect toy to the table, ask yourself if your child even has those prejudices - who is it helping more? You or your child?

Top Playtime Tips to Develop Diversity Awareness in Kids

Question everything - kids have endless curiosity. Allow them to ask questions and give them your full attention when you respond. This helps to develop a bond that says 'it's OK to ask these questions'. In return, ask them questions back to encourage independent thinking.

Lead by example - one of my favourite mantras and one, which I say to my own children, is treat everyone as you yourselves would want to be treated. If you want your kids to treat everybody equally, treat everybody equally! If you want your kids to be accepted, accept everyone else first. Children are expert imitators and they're learning from us!

Get out of your comfort zone - fear and prejudice comes from ignorance. If everybody in your community is just like you, when somebody who's not like you comes along your kids are going to notice the difference. If you're really keen to develop diversity in your children, bring diversity into their lives from an early age.

Lisa Bradburn is founder of what2buy4kids.co.uk