When thinking about passing along the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to young children it is important to remember how children learn. Young children learn through experiences, observations, and experimentation. As they traverse this big beautiful world, children start to form their own knowledge and thoughts about different kinds of people based on who and how they see peoples from various backgrounds represented.
There are many different ways that we can ensure our little ones turn into adults who value the many benefits of living in an inclusive and global society. (The list provided below has some examples.) But what we must keep top of mind is that exposure is key.
Ideas to Foster Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Values in Your Children
- Send your children to schools, mommy and me classes, and enrichment programs that hire professionals (from leadership to support staff) from diverse backgrounds. You may also want to seek these programs out in places outside of your own neighborhood.
- Find pediatricians, dentists, and other high-earning professionals from varying backgrounds. This type of intentionality will allow children to observe that skin color doesn’t signify inherent value or ability.
- Have playdates with children with different types of families (one mommy, two daddies, grandparents) and with varying abilities (wheelchair, braces, glasses)
- When children start to express that they notice differences in people’s skin color or hair texture, let them talk about what they see. Gone are the days where we ask children not to talk about differences. Celebrating differences is what steers children away from learning to bias.
Thoughts on Responding to Your Child’s Questions About Other People’s Differences
Don’t be afraid to pause or take a day before answering hard questions about race and inequality. Children will point out differences and they will ask us questions that make us uncomfortable.
I distinctly remember asking my brother’s best friend, we’ll call him Chris, who I’d known forever, why he had such ugly teeth. I was four. My brother was mortified. But after her initial embarrassment wore off, she took me aside and let me know that different people look different. Shying away from nothing, she also explained that not everyone can see the dentist. I was confused by that idea but then she finished by saying Chris and many other people may like his teeth because they are unique and different. Differences can make people feel special.
I don’t remember much else from the conversation but I do remember feeling differently about his teeth, they no longer bothered or shocked me. He was just my big brother’s friend. He’s in his 40’s now, has a wonderful job, a great family, and still has his special smile. I’m so grateful that she guided me through that experience. It’s one I’ve never forgotten.
Reflecting on this, I wonder what I would say to our children in this situation.
If a child asked me, “Ms. Ajia, why does he have ugly teeth?”
I would respond, “I don’t see them as ugly, but they are different. I then might invite the child to help me find the differences between her and myself. I’d also share with her my “imperfections” to highlight that everyone is different and differences are fabulous!”
Some Ideas For DEI-focused Activities to do During Black History Month
As we celebrate black history month, here are some ideas for activities to do with your children that foster discussions around different cultures.
- Put artwork up in your home that showcases the wonderful rainbow of humanity
- Include dolls and toys that do the same
- Choose books that showcase diverse characters in a variety of settings
- Paint self-portraits using mirrors and skin color paint (invite friends and family that have different shades of skin or different color hair to share in the experience)
- Work with your child on puzzles that have diverse characters: Puzzles
- Cook culturally diverse foods
- Celebrate a holiday that’s culturally different from your own