How can I help my child . . . ?
- What do the terms “diversity,” “equity,” “equality,” and “inclusion” mean?
- How can I support what my child is learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion at school ?
- How can I encourage my child to be kind, compassionate, and inclusive?
- How can I help my child respond to exclusion, bias, discrimination, or hate?
What are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
The terms diversity, equity, and inclusion have become household words. These topics have been highlighted in recent times by nationwide race-related protests and social unrest.
Schools around the country have begun to address these issues more urgently in their curricula. The goal is to help young people understand diversity, learn to be inclusive of others, and respond to discrimination, racism, and hate.
The more parents and caregivers educate themselves about these issues, the better they can support what their children are learning at school and help them learn critical skills for their future lives.
The terms, diversity, equity, and inclusion are interrelated, and their meanings often overlap.
Very often the word “diversity” is used to talk about race and ethnicity, but in the broad sense, diversity refers to any and all of the characteristics that make people unique and different from one another. Diversity includes a variety of features, including the following:
- Socio-economic background
- Race and ethnicity
- Religious background
- Political beliefs
- Culture and language
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
Sadly, these types of differences sometimes create fear and barriers between people or groups. Rather than appreciating diversity and accepting that human beings are all different, some individuals or organizations may use different characteristics as a basis for exclusion or discrimination against a particular person or group.
Equity vs. Equality
The term equity is often confused with “equality,” but the two terms do not actually mean the same thing.
“Equality,” refers to ensuring that everyone has the same opportunities and receives the same–equal–treatment and level of support.
By contrast, equity means making sure that every individual gets what they need in order to succeed. The treatment and level of support may be different, depending on each person’s needs and circumstances.
In short, equity involves “leveling the playing field” by giving more support to those who need it. An example of one way schools support student equity is by offering special education services. In this case, rather than treating all students the same, some students receive additional support in order to give them an equal opportunity to reach their full potential.
Both equality and equity are aimed at fairness. However, while equality focuses on treating everyone the same regardless of need; equity focuses on learning what people need in order to succeed and treating them differently depending on those needs.
Inclusion refers to the act or practice of being open and accepting of differences. Inclusive individuals and organizations make intentional efforts to include and accommodate people who are often excluded because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or other factors.
An inclusive environment is one where people feel accepted and valued regardless of their personal backgrounds, values, traits, characteristics, or beliefs.
Many education leaders, as well as community and business leaders, are beginning to place a stronger emphasis on inclusion.
Some basic ways that schools and other organizations can support inclusion include
- training staff and students to understand issues of diversity and empathize with others.
- providing accommodations, resources, and support for individuals with unique needs (different abilities, physical or mental health challenges, etc.)
- providing accommodations, resources, and support for individuals or groups who may face discrimination for one or more aspects of their identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).
When inclusion is a priority–be it in a school, workplace, or other organization–people often say it helps them feel more positive, motivated and empowered to thrive and do and be their best.
Why It Matters
As the conversations around diversity in all forms continue to deepen and expand in our country, children will be regularly exposed to these issues and will no doubt be engaged in related discussions both in and outside the classroom.
These topics may not be easy to discuss with children and teens; however, it’s important for parents and caregivers to encourage open communication at home as children will often have questions and may need support to process and understand what they are learning and experiencing.
While many schools and teachers are doing a good job emphasizing the importance of acceptance and inclusion, these attitudes can and should be reinforced at home. Parents and caregivers have a responsibility to examine their own attitudes and biases, as these are most often passed onto children. Parents who model inclusive behaviors and guide their children to understand and appreciate diversity can make a difference in their child’s ability to get along with peers and work with others who are different from them throughout their entire lives.
By starting and continuing these discussions and modeling openness to diversity at home, parents and caregivers can help children understand the key historical and cultural background underlying these issues, develop empathy and acceptance of others who are different from them, and learn to recognize and respond to discrimination, either when they experience it themselves or when they witness the discrimination of others.
Think about your answers to the following questions related to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion at home.
- How often do you interact or spend time with people who have different backgrounds (racial, cultural, religious, sexual orientation, etc.) from your own?
- How comfortable do you feel interacting with people who are different or who have different backgrounds, beliefs, or lifestyles from yours?
- Do you encourage your child to ask questions when they are curious about differences between themselves and others?
- Have you ever talked with your child about the importance of being accepting and inclusive toward others, including others who are different from them?
- In what ways have you helped your child grasp the importance of being kind and compassionate toward others, even if they are different from them?
- Have you ever talked with your child about stereotypes?
- Have you ever talked with your child about bias, prejudice, discrimination, or hate?
- How comfortable are you talking about issues of race, racism with your child?
- How comfortable are you talking about issues of sexual orientation and gender identity with your child?
- How comfortable are you talking about disabilities or different abilities with your child?
- Do you share movies, documentaries, books, or TV shows with your child that feature diverse cultures, languages, abilities, and social perspectives or that specifically address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- Do you talk with your child about what they are learning related to diversity and inclusion at school?
- Do you have a sense of how (and how well) your child’s school and school district promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion (e.g., through school policies and the general environment, through staff training, class offerings or programs for students, etc.)?
- Do you talk with your child about current events or news stories related to race or discrimination?
- How do you believe people should respond when they experience or witness exclusion, bias, discrimination, or hate? How have you personally responded in the past?
- How would you advise your child to respond if they experience or witness exclusion, bias, discrimination, or hate?
Reflect on your responses, and continue reading this article to learn more about how you can promote awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion at home with your child. Check out these additional resources.
Connect & Communicate:
Making a habit of talking to your child about issues of diversity and inclusion can help them reflect on their own attitudes and experiences and discuss these issues thoughtfully, as well as develop empathy and compassion for others.
Many parents feel they lack the expertise to discuss these topics and may worry that they will say the wrong thing. It can be tempting to avoid the topic or minimize differences (e.g., “People are all the same underneath.”), but brushing off these topics can send the message to your child that there’s something shameful or wrong with people looking, thinking, or behaving differently.
Talking openly and providing accurate information in response to children’s questions about race, sexual orientation, gender, disabilities and other diversity-related topics is the best way to empower children to create a kinder, more compassionate society for their future.
Tips for teaching your teen self-management skills:
Examine your own attitudes.
No matter what our background is or how open-minded we feel we are, it’s important to recognize that we all harbor our own biases and prejudices. Often, we transmit these underlying attitudes to our children without even knowing it. It’s useful to do some self-reflection, for example, thinking about your past experiences and the values and attitudes you were raised within your own family, as they relate to others from diverse identities and backgrounds, including different cultures, language groups, races, abilities, ethnicities, sexual orientation, or gender expression. This self-awareness can help you have honest conversations with your child and support their learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion in a meaningful way.
Know your child’s rights.
Research school and district policies related to equity and inclusion. Check the rules and policies against bullying and other forms of hate speech and behavior and make sure they are clearly communicated for all students and parents, including any multilingual translations for non-English speaking members of the community.
Talk openly about bias, exclusion, and discrimination.
Create an atmosphere at home that allows open discussion of difficult topics and encourages children to ask questions or express concerns. Ask your child about any experiences of exclusion, bias, or bigotry they may have encountered personally or witnessed in their school or community, and share any personal experiences of your own.
Provide exposure to diversity.
Find ways to ensure that your child has as many positive encounters with diversity as possible. Encourage them to get to know people whose backgrounds and cultures differ from their own. If possible, travel and explore outside of your local community. Even when travel is not possible, you can increase exposure to diversity by attending local cultural events, exhibitions, performances, talks, and lectures. At home, films, books, music, art, crafts, games, and television shows that feature diversity can help open young people’s minds to the diverse world outside their own home and the local community.
Promote empathy and compassion.
Discuss how it feels to be excluded or discriminated against. When talking about movies, books, current events, news stories, or personal anecdotes, encourage children to imagine what each person involved in the situation might have been thinking or feeling.
Additional activities for families
- Watch movies with your child and talk about stereotypes/images they notice.
- Organize a book club with teens (or other parents) around a book that discusses race, diversity, etc.
- Spend an evening in another country. Have children choose a country or culture they’re interested in. Cook food (or get take out), listen to music, watch a movie about the country/culture.
- Take a trip to visit a museum or cultural center where family members can learn together about diverse cultures and historical events
- Volunteer for a local social justice organization
- Download a language-learning app (for example, Duolingo, Rosetta Stone) and start learning a language as a family.
Contact & Collaborate:
School personnel, as well as community organizations and local branches of national civil rights and social justice organizations, can be great resources for more information and opportunities to get involved and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion at home and in your community.
Check your school district’s website to find out if there is a dedicated office, staff, or other resources to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in local schools. If not, contact the superintendent or school board to ask for related information.
Reach out to your child’s school principal, social worker, or counselor to learn about school policies and student rights related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as any school-based groups or clubs for BIPOC or LGBTQ students.
Check out local community calendars, for upcoming events at your local library, college or university, or performance venues. Choose a few interesting cultural events, art exhibitions, music performances, talks, lectures, films, festivals, etc. to attend with your family.
- Local chapter of NAACP.
- Local community organizations e.g. Boys and Girls Club, offers programs for LGBTQAI+ youth.
- Local organizations serving migrants/immigrant community members.
- List of national civil liberties organizations: http://www.startguide.org/orgs/orgs05.html
- List of national social justice organizations http://www.startguide.org/orgs/orgs06.html
Explore these resources to continue learning about how you can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Teaching Diversity More Than One Day at a Time
In this inspiring talk High School Sophomore Grace Darrow describes how the desire for more inclusive learning by young people is not being met by our outdated education system.
Grace Darrow is a High School sophomore in Morrisville, Vermont. She loves the art of storytelling and has always been intrigued by writing, film making & poetry. Grace is also a runner. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.