As parents and caregivers, sometimes it feels easier to not talk proactively with our kids about
differences. However, kids see and experience differences every day. They candidly ask
questions about the differences they don’t understand. As adults, our tendency is to shoosh
these curious questions. Sometimes that is due to fear of not having the “right” answer or
wanting to protect the child.
Kids want to talk about differences. It is a learned behavior through asking questions and being
shooshed that children learn to stop being curious. By inviting children to ask candid (and
respectful) questions, we nurture that skill set rather than quiet it away.
There are three concepts that are helpful when talking to children about differences:
- Protecting doesn’t mean shielding
- Empathy is better than sympathy
- The importance of staying curious a little longer
Protecting doesn’t mean shielding
Gen Z, the generation born after 1996 believes that diversity and inclusion are non-negotiable.
They look for diversity and inclusion in their education, employers, and companies they choose to spend money.
Did you know that:
- 31% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer plus
other gender identities and/or sexual orientations)
- Only 52% are White (multi-cultural is the fast-growing racial demographic)
- Gen Z values honesty, kindness and fairness most (and expect it to exist in the
organizations they support)
Well-intentioned parents try to protect their children because they fear what they do not
understand. Perhaps conversations about differences were not normalized or modeled for them as children and they lack the resources to successfully navigate the fragile conversation. It feels easier to not have the conversation. It feels optional. Yet, for people of color, those with disabilities, and those with different types of families, the conversation is not optional. It is lived
Empathy is better than sympathy
One mistake adults make with diversity is to overly sympathize with a person experiencing the
adversity of diversity. It is not about you. It is not about your ego. It is about the person experiencing the challenge. And, when people share something hard with you they often want to
be heard, believed, and respected.
Children who experience differences want to feel loved. Children curious about differences expect to be met with empathy – to feel understood.
Empathy is about taking on the perspective of someone else different from you. It is not about wearing their shoes. As adults, it may be incredibly difficult to wear the shoes of a child or to remember what it was like to be them since it may have been many years in your past.
Consider these thoughtful prompting questions to open up the empathy in a conversation:
- How do you think that might feel?
- Do you want my advice or do you want me to listen?
- What is something you don’t want me to ask you about?
The importance of staying curious a little longer 75% of White people live in White-dominated communities. That means that a lot of children do not get early exposure to folks of different races.
Conversations matter. They prepare young
people for the real, increasingly diverse world that awaits them at universities and workplaces.
How do you experience diversity if you don’t live in a diverse area?
The answer lies in staying curious about differences and proactively placing yourself in
situations where diversity plays a role.
Here are some everyday ways adults can expose children to more diversity:
- Travel to places with different cultural backgrounds and experiences
- Go to restaurants with different types of foods from different cultures
- Watch media from different perspectives
- Diversify your bookshelf with stories about diverse groups of people
- Seek opportunities to notice differences as an opportunity for continued learning
Conversations about differences and inclusion take time. They require patience and vulnerability
to continue to have conversations about hard things. These aren’t conversations that were likely
modeled for past generations, and many adults feel ill-equipped to have conversations they might not have had as children themselves.
Conversations about differences are not a one-and-done check-the-box activity. They should occur consistently and intentionally over time.
For longer-term actions, consider:
- Celebrate diversity months. February is Black History Month, March is Women’s History Month, and June is Pride month. Did you know that July is Disability Pride Month and April is Celebrate Diversity Month? There are opportunities to celebrate year-round.
- Diversify who you spend time with. Children learn by example. Inviting different types of
people into your home, visiting different places, and spending time with folks different
from you matters. They see that blueprint and are more likely to follow suit.
- Sprinkle diverse topics into everyday conversation. Think about a question you could ask at dinner time or bedtime, or on a walk or car ride that is curious about differences. Ask, “did you notice…” or “what differences did you notice today?” to stimulate regular, ongoing conversations.
Meet Julie at NextPivotPoint.com. There you will find resources, articles, and podcasts to further
explore and learn about diversity and inclusion.
Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. After experiencing many career “pivot points” of her own, she started her own speaking business with the goal of helping leaders be more inclusive. Promoting diversity, inclusion, and allyship in the workplace, Julie helps organizations foster more inclusive environments. She is a frequent keynote speaker, podcast host, and executive coach. She holds an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, is a Certified Master Coach, and is a certified unconscious bias trainer.