Teaching Diversity and Inclusivity From The Formative Years

September 26, 2023

Parenting is one of those things you never really feel like you’re getting right. It’s a constant pendulum of not trying to carry on past flaws you own, but not overcorrecting and overstepping. It can be wonderful, exhausting, terrifying and incredibly healing all in one breath.

Being the mother in my family, insecurity and imposter syndrome also comes with the territory, and is not an unknown territory, because of what women face daily, but I also have to remind myself that I carry the most privilege in my family. And amongst all the usual parenting mayhem and wonder with my daughter Elka, because of that position I hold in our family, I need to show up every day, I need to show true allyship, and I need to create a space that fosters Diversity and Inclusion. My daughter is half Australian and half Sri Lankan, both cultures run strong in our families and we committed early on to create as much of a loving, safe and empowering space for our daughter to exist in. I don’t carry that lived experience that her dad has to, so my job when it comes to creating that safe space for her, is to empower Elka to show her what the standard is for her allies as she goes through life. 

The first 8 years of a child’s life are the most formative in terms of social, physical and cognitive development and they are exposed to so much in the world. It’s been really important to Elka’s dad and I to make diversity and inclusion a core part of learning, exploration and the norm for Elka. We have made small subtle changes and some really big ones too. We ensure Elka grows up with representation and cultural connection as much as we can, we don’t allow for unsafe spaces for our family as much as we possibly can, and of course we use as many resources as we are able to, to provide Elka with teachings that include all people.

A man and woman holding a baby with a mountain and blue sky view in the background

Teaching diversity and inclusion from a young age is not only important but necessary for the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. By exposing them to diverse perspectives, cultures, and ways of life, children can be empowered to embrace the richness of diversity, cultivate empathy, and become active advocates for a more inclusive society. It is our collective responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion in education, as it shapes the future generation of compassionate and open-minded people who will work towards a more harmonious and just world. Teaching comes in so many forms, through formal education, to every day small changes around the house, like using more inclusive books, movies and kids shows.

 

On top of all the every-day parts of parenting and teaching our kids, we need to confront and challenge our own biases and prejudiceA little girl standing next to a couch playing with Deck of Diversity flash cardss. It’s common for individuals to hold unconscious biases, often born out of societal conditioning and that requires continuous learning, self-reflection, and open dialogue. By actively engaging in these processes, a parent can celebrate and create a nurturing environment that honours their child’s uniqueness, and fosters their growth into a confident and culturally safe, aware and happy individual. At home we seek out books that include main characters with different abilities, backgrounds and appearances, and we try as often as we can to use inclusive language (we’re not perfect, still working on it). We use the Deck of Diversity cards in our household regularly, just like a book. We started using it early with our daughter and the way we use it has changed based on her interests and how she wants to play. The deck is full of lots of fun illustrations and text which creates for great imagined stories at bedtime with new leading men, ladies and people, and now that Elka is starting to use some words we are reading through the meaning of each card. 

As our little one grows we will evolve our resources and keep challenging our biases too. The work to undo those societal inequities needs to continue with us and our parenting approaches, and I’m so grateful and excited by initiatives like Expand Your Library, and products like Deck of Diversity for our kids.

 

 

 

A woman smiling at the cameraTiarnie Gilbert

Tiarnie is a freelance writer who covers topics from fashion to parenting and anything in between, depending on the 3am thoughts that are taking up her brain space.