How to talk to your child about diversity. — Scope | Disability forum
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How to talk to your child about diversity.

Cher_Alumni Scope alumni Posts: 5,741 Disability Gamechanger

Many thanks to Charlotte Murphy for today's guest blog which tackles an increasingly important issue for parents and care-givers: How to talk to your child about diversity.

Even as adults, we’re always learning new ways to be more inclusive and accepting of difference. So how do we prepare children for this ever-evolving world? Many parents are understandably intimidated by the prospect of discussing diversity with their kids: these are sensitive and complex topics.

If this is your current situation, don’t worry! You’ll find that children are far more open-minded than you might expect. That means as a parent, you don’t need to know it all. Your role is simply to guide them towards principles of equality and understanding.

The fact that you’re reflecting on diversity is a great sign. It means you’re probably already modelling these principles. Here are some practical tips to help you talk to your child about this important subject.

Children stood in a row wearing colourful clothing and wellington boots

Focus on strengths

A simplified message like “everyone is the same” sounds good, but it isn’t honest, and children are already able to observe diversity. Rather than pretend differences don’t exist, acknowledge them as just one part of what makes people who they are.

Helping Hands Home Care recommends a message of “you’re not defined by your condition” to carers who work with disabled young people, and you can copy that approach with your child by discussing both similarities and differences between people, emphasizing everyone’s unique strengths.

At times, your child may use language or make comments that are inappropriate. Although you shouldn’t ignore harmful speech, a disciplinarian approach is unlikely to be effective. As
Slate says, “All the punishment in the world isn’t going to make someone less prejudiced.”

Instead, make a constructive correction. Explain why their choice of words isn’t the best one and offer alternatives. Emphasise that using respectful language makes people feel safe and included, and although we may not always say the right thing, we should always be thoughtful and try our best.

Be honest and accountable

Don’t feel like you have to become a teacher on every topic related to diversity. Instead, be honest about your limitations. This is a great way to model curiosity and empathy. When you don’t know something, involve your child in the process of finding out.

Make it a shared mission to be as inclusive as possible. Explain that to become more inclusive, you’ll both have to listen to people of diverse experience. That’s because they’re the best experts on their own lives.

It also helps to acknowledge prejudices you’ve felt in the past and how you became more inclusive. For example,
Zero Tolerance recommends that parents “emphasise generalisations and how silly they sound when you think about it.”

A good place to start the conversation could be gender stereotypes in play. Ask your child, who can play with dolls? Who can play football? Who made the rules? Are they helpful or true?

Share diverse perspectives

The media is a great tool for parents who want to introduce diversity topics in conversation. For example, if a character faces prejudice on television, you can ask “how do you think that character feels right now? What would you do in that situation?”

When choosing books, TV shows, and films for your children, look for diverse characters. Greater representation can normalise difference from an early age, encouraging children to empathise and identify with all kinds of people.

It’s never too early to introduce these topics:
Equaliteach has a comprehensive book list that begins at age 1-3. Even at that young age, children can still be taught that we’re not all the same: we’re different but equal, and difference is something beautiful.

Although the language may become more complex later, that essential message stays the same!

Many thanks to Charlotte Murphy for her contribution.
[email protected]

Over to you:

  • What did you think to Charlotte's piece?
  • Is this a conversation you've had with your children?
  • Have you any other recommendations on how to educate children about diversity?
Let us know in the comments section below!
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  • WestHam06
    WestHam06 Community member, Scope Volunteer Posts: 1,396 Pioneering
    Thank you so much for sharing this Charlotte, it's definitely a conversation that needs to be developed. Though not a parent myself, I can share experience from another perspective. I've been out and about in my wheelchair and children do stare but I don't think it's being rude, I think they are curious, especially if they haven't seen a person in a wheelchair before. Often children's attitudes are passed onto them from the environment that they are brought up in including the attitudes their parent's have. Some parents completely ignore it or they hurry away and say 'Come on let's go'. Sometimes they look uncomfortable. I imagine for some, they themselves, are perhaps unsure as to how to explain it and that's where I think more conversation needs to be had around how we talk about inclusion and what it looks like. It's also difficult because not everyone feels comfortable talking about their 'difference', whatever it may be and that's completely fair enough, but it's not a difference, it's just part of who they are and we need to work to making this more accepted. Inclusion can sometimes be over thought, though there is much to it, for me, in my opinion, at the very heart of being inclusive is respect, understanding and willingness to learn more. I feel if we are honest about what we know and what we don't, we open up the opportunity for some great learning experiences.
    When I have been asked why I am in a wheelchair by a child, I am honest with them and explain it in an age appropriate way. Thank you.


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