October – Diversity Awareness Month
October is International Diversity Awareness Month and our guest blogger Olivia Wood has written a helpful article on how to talk to children about diversity.
How to Talk to Your Child or Young Person About Diversity
Children and young people are keenly interested in other people, and are actively engaged in appraising others, navigating their own identities, and figuring out where they fit in the world. We can channel this natural curiosity into learning to accept and understand people who are different from them.
Adults play an important role in shaping these perspectives, whether it’s on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or anything else. Here are some ideas on how to approach the topic.
Start with where they are
Every child differs in their ability and willingness to talk about issues like race, diversity, and inclusion. As with all other teaching moments, we can try to gauge their developmental stage, and pitch the conversations accordingly. Better yet, wait for them to actively ask questions, or start a dialogue about things you both encounter in the world, such as depictions in the media.
The principles of tolerance, empathy and inclusion are woven into everyday life, so don’t feel like you need to sit down and have a serious chat. Rather, think of it as a learning topic like any other, and broach the idea with consideration for your child’s unique perspectives. Everyone wants to feel loved and accepted for who they are, so start there. Children and young people who are living with disabilities may have already encountered discrimination or misunderstandings, or have been the target of hurtful behaviour. We know this is upsetting when it happens but it can offer a point to reflect on the correct way to be treated and how to treat others. What are their thoughts, feelings, or questions around this?
If your child has questions about other people’s different appearances or behaviour, use the opportunity to model respectful acceptance, and give factual, neutral answers. It’s OK to notice differences. But take a moment to teach that everyone deserves kindness and compassion – children of all ages are always receptive to notions of justice and fairness.
Be aware that children can pick up on their parents’ unconscious or unspoken attitudes. If you’re uncomfortable with people from different backgrounds, personal identities, ethnicities, or abilities, or even if you find the topic itself uncomfortable, your child may notice. Educate yourself and be honest about your own language and behavior – truthfully many adults could stand to be a little more tolerant. Often, the best lessons in compassion come when others show us how to be an inclusive and respectful person, rather than merely discuss it abstractly.
No matter their age or developmental stage, children and young people appreciate kindness and respect. Unfortunately, our culture emphasizes “us vs. them” thinking, and the use of labels to put distance between those who are seen as different. You can counter this by regularly talking about what you have in common with other groups. Your language can be a powerful reflection of inclusive values. You could treat those with differences with subtle pity, or completely ignore their difference, both of which are quite invalidating. Or you could acknowledge differences and respect them, choosing to focus on strengths and the other qualities which make them who they are.
We all have a responsibility to challenge prejudice and champion diversity. It is our differences which make us unique, valued individuals and our shared humanity demonstrates we have much more in common with each other than what separates us.
Be discerning with media
Sadly, the people we see celebrated in TV and movies aren’t always the picture of compassion, inclusivity, and diversity. Closely monitor the media your child consumes and make sure they’re seeing inspiring depictions of kind-hearted people from all walks of life.
Research now shows that consuming “counter-stereotypical” images in the media is one of the best ways to lessen unconscious prejudice, so seek out books or TV shows with positive representation. If your child does encounter hurtful or unfair stereotypes – talk about it. Call out bad behavior and its effects, then provide meaningful alternatives.
Lesley Berrington, author of the heart-warming Hattie and Friends books, says, “The important message is that all children can be friends and have fun, abilities are not important. All young children easily accept differences, their curiosity will raise questions, and they then develop attitudes from the answers they receive. We must show, through our attitudes and actions, that we value all children equally.”
How to communicate about diversity effectively
Communicating effectively about diversity is the key to helping your children understand the diversity issues that they may come across in their day-to-day lives. Diversity is a tricky subject to communicate on its own and if your child has a learning disability, there can be additional challenges around communication. Every child, can receive communication about diversity to support their social literacy. Having a disability doesn’t have to get in the way of effectively approaching diversity and there are many ways you can cater your approach if you have a disabled child.
Use the appropriate language
For some disabled children, socialising is difficult, and they may not have the same life experiences as other children. When it comes to talking about diversity, scenarios which are used for diversity learning with some children, may not be appropriate for others. Try to create examples that are relatable to your child which won’t be confusing. It may be a good idea to bring in fictional characters or even use family members as an example that they will be able to recognise.