We live in a colourful world, one that is filled with people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, colours, and creeds. There is so much diversity in the world that it would take lifetimes to learn about it all. Unfortunately, we also live in a world where people are judged and mistreated based on those same criteria, or anything that someone can invent to make someone an “other”.
These ‘othering’ tendencies are starting to die out as the older generations do, but there are still many people who’ve been raised with the mentality that anything different from them is inherently wrong. We can combat this by raising a new generation to be inclusive and embrace diversity. How can you teach inclusivity to your children?
The dictionary defines inclusiveness as “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.” This is a very stark and cold definition for something that impacts so much of our daily life. Inclusivity isn’t just providing extra opportunities for people who might belong to these groups. It’s breaking the chain of learned behavior that teaches us that anything other is not equal to us.
Stopping the cycle of this sort of generational trauma isn’t easy and our best chance of accomplishing this goal is by instilling the importance of inclusivity in the newest generation. Adults can unlearn bad habits, but it’s a lot easier if they never learn them in the first place.
Kids will start to notice that people look different than they do at a very young age. One study found that babies as young as three months will start to show preferences for people who look as they do. At that age, it’s just a child striving to understand the world around them, and the familiar is what is most comfortable. Start teaching them about diversity while they’re young. Read them books, show them kids shows with diverse characters, and work to expand their horizons so that they understand that there is more to the world than just the things that they know and hold familiar.
Lead By Example
You know the phrase, do as I say, not as I do? It sounds great on paper but it doesn’t work in reality. You can tell your kids to do anything you want, but if they see you acting the opposite, then they’re going to mimic the behaviour that they see in you rather than the behaviour you’re instructing them to do. If you want to teach your kids inclusivity, then you need to behave in an inclusive manner. Practice what you preach and your kids will follow suit.
Expand Your Horizons
As we were growing up, most of the media we consumed was coloured by the people creating it — and most of Hollywood was controlled by old white men. While that is still the case, it is slowly changing and the media that we can consume now is getting more varied, more colourful, and showcases new and previously unexplored perspectives. Take the time to expand your horizons — both as a parent and as a family — and explore some of these new stories to expand your own worldview.
Explain, Don’t Ignore
Kids are naturally inquisitive. As soon as they start to comprehend language, the questions are endless. This is another tool for them to understand the world around them, which makes it the perfect tool for teaching inclusivity. Children — especially young ones who haven’t learned the concept of a brain-to-mouth filter — will ask questions about everyone that they see. This includes people who look different from them or who may appear different from what they’re used to seeing.
Don’t shy away from these questions or tell them that it’s impolite to ask. Instead, use it as an opportunity to explain that everyone is different. You don’t need to go into details — though some people may be happy to explain to a small child why they look different from everyone else. Regardless of the details of the answer, the important thing is to answer. Telling them not to ask isn’t going to quell the curiosity, but it will foster the seeds of division within their mind.
It’s Not Easy, But It’s Important
Teaching inclusivity to our children isn’t an easy task. We’ve spent generations being conditioned to believe that anything different from us is inherently lesser, different, and even bad. As adults, we have to make the conscious choice to unlearn the biases that we’ve grown up with every single day of our lives. We have the opportunity now to ensure that our children don’t have to do the same.
We’re probably a few generations away from being able to live in a world without any form of discrimination, but we can plant the seeds today, even if we’ll never see the tree that eventually grows from them.