How to Talk with Kids About Diversity and Inclusion
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
I read the book Allyship in Action by Julie Kratz and so I asked her to do this guest blog post. Read below for my thoughts on this awesome book. Julie Kratz is a highly-acclaimed TEDx speaker and inclusive leadership trainer who led teams and produced results in corporate America. 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. Learn more about her at Next Pivot Point.
Tips to start the conversation with kids about diversity
When I reflect on my why for my diversity and inclusion work, the real reason I do what I do is not to help organizations maximize innovation, revenues, and profitabilities, but to educate and be a part of making workplaces more inclusive for the next generation. For me, it’s about my daughters’ experiencing a world that truly embraces them. It is important that they see themselves reflected in organizations that they work for and they feel like they are seen, heard, and belong at the same rate as others.
If we are still having this tiring, boring conversation about the business case for diversity and why it matters, I will be gravely disappointed. My hope Is that this next generation doesn’t have to have these conversations anymore. I hope that the next generation has tools to better understand differences and awareness about inequities and where they exist. They’re not raised to be color blind but color brave, they see gender as a spectrum, and they want equality for all.
Why Talk to Kids About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Talking to your children about diversity, equity, and inclusion is important because they see differences. Children are very quick to speak up about differences not with judgment, but curiosity. They notice someone in a wheelchair, they notice different skin colors, they see a child that has same-sex parents. What they don’t know how to do is talk about the differences. They boldly ask direct questions that might feel offensive to adults. They, then in turn, learn negative behavior that’s unhelpful to support diversity. They’re shushed when they ask uncomfortable questions. They’re met with disapproval when they look at someone different too long. This is a problem. If we don’t teach our kids how to talk productively about differences they’ll learn to ignore them, feel shame when noticing them, and worst of all contribute to further inequality.
We can’t fix a problem we’re not aware of.
History books and lessons over time reinforce white male supremacy. We briefly learn about slavery but don’t learn about Jim Crow. We learn about civil rights but we don’t learn about mass incarceration. We learn about women that were complicit with men and “good girls” but not about the revolutionary women that made real differences. It’s time to teach your kids the real history. It’s time to address the systems that we have in place including education and the flaws. History reinforces a white male majority and doesn’t leave room for people of color, women, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities to see themselves reflected in history. If you’re a kid with a unique identity, studying primarily white male history is harmful. If you don’t see yourself reflected in our history, how will you know where you belong?
DEI Conversation Starters for Children and Teens
Curious about diversity and inclusion but don’t know where to start a conversation with your kids? You are not alone. I’ve spent over a year researching this with my friend Simone Morris on our podcast Inclusion School, and after interviewing dozens of experts on the topic we have come to learn these truths:
Meet our children where they’re at. Conversations will be very different depending on age and wherewithal. Keep it simple for younger kids and as they progress generally around age 10 they have the maturity to talk much more in-depth about diversity and inclusion
Ask them questions to facilitate their thinking around diversity. Keep them open and reserve judgment. Let them express themselves freely on the topic.
Watch antiracism videos and books, and ask them what they thought.
Read a book that has diverse characters and ask them what they noticed.
Watch a movie with equal representation of genders, races, and sexual orientations and share your thoughts.
Be mindful of the toys and books you have in your home. They are subtle signals of the types of people we accept.
There is no perfect way to have this conversation with our kids. It will be messy. You will make mistakes. Children will say unexpected things and ask hard questions. It’s okay to be vulnerable.
Use Social Emotional Learning to Foster Inclusive Behavior
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines Social Emotional Learning as, “The process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”
Similar to emotional intelligence, it has the core competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. According to the National Library of Medicine, SEL has positive outcomes on academic performance, citing an 11 percentile point gain in achievement. However, SEL has become a controversial issue amongst many school systems and board meetings. Similar to misunderstandings about Critical Race Theory, SEL has been used as a propaganda campaign to scare parents.
Lack of awareness is one of the primary problems with DEI. For us to be able to have empathetic, vulnerable conversations about differences we must know how to process our emotions. This doesn’t have to be complicated. While emotions might feel very complex, having a simple guide to describe your emotions with young people (all people for that matter) is helpful.
The SEL Color Wheel
The SEL color wheel breaks our emotions down into 6 basic categories: red for angry, orange for afraid, yellow for surprised, green for happy, blue for sad, and purple for disgusted. Most people, when asked to brainstorm emotions, tend to keep them very basic and will generally cite sad, happy, or mad. The color wheel gives kids language for more complex emotions and a shortcut, similar to a code word, to explain to them.
When talking about emotions it’s important to understand that not all emotions are positive. On the color wheel there’s a wide range of emotions. Yet, more often when someone shares something hard with us or painful like a DEI situation, we often react wanting to make it better with a positive wrapper (or band aid) around their sad or painful story.
“Toxic positivity Is forced, false positivity. It may sound innocuous on the surface, but when you share something difficult with someone and they insist that you turn it into a positive, what they’re really saying is “my comfort is more important than your reality.” – Susan David
Fostering Psychological Safety
When people in our personal lives express emotions, especially young people, it’s important to meet them where they’re at. It’s okay for them to feel that way. It’s okay for them to find a place to process their emotion and come back to the conversation when they’re ready. It’s okay for them to set boundaries around their emotions and to tell people if they’re not being treated according to their boundaries.
One of my friends has a special mat at her house and it has a curtain around it. When her children are expressing difficult emotions they know to go to the mat and close the curtain
and that that’s a safe place for them to process their emotions. A place where no one will intervene until they are ready. It’s another tool that makes processing emotions in difficult situations easier. Having tools when we’re calm and rational can be helpful in situations where it’s hard to think clearly when we’re emotional.
Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish you for speaking up. I liken psychological safety to feeling safe when saying and doing hard things. There’s not going to be an adverse reaction, punishment, or retribution for speaking up and saying something unpopular. As allies, this has to be the case to have productive conversations about the challenges of diversity. If we don’t feel safe bringing up hard things like racism, sexism, and homophobia; then we’re never going to get to the real issues that are holding people back.
My book, Little Allies, is a children’s book designed to spark conversations with our children about diversity and inclusion. It’s too late to start talking about diversity and inclusion when people have already grown up and entered the workforce. And it’s not too early to start with children as young as five years old. Children need tools to help them express what they’re seeing. They need parents, caregivers, and educators to talk with them about these candid issues. They need to learn it’s okay to see differences, but it’s not okay to treat people differently based on their differences. They need to know that racism and sexism exist and that they have the power with their voices to help end it as allies. Get your copy and free discussion guide at www.TheLittleAllies.com.
"Being an ally is like being a soft place for someone to land." Allyship in Action Book Review
I loved Allyship in Action by Julie Kratz. this practical and thought-provoking book. Kratz asks important questions for self-reflection, shares 10 practices for living inclusively, current research, and she gives you applicable and actionable steps and activities to take action as an ally. There are self-assessments at the end of each chapter covering topics like empathy, vulnerability, curiosity, emotions, courage, accountability, privilege, and more. I think this would be a great book study text for schools and workplaces. There is even a companion Allyship in Action Workbook. I found the well-intentioned statements to avoid to be very helpful, as long as the reframes to show empathy.
Besides Allyship in Action: 10 Strategies for Living Inclusively her other books include Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan, ONE: How Male Allies Support Women for Gender Equality, Lead Like an Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America with Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion, and her children’s book Little Allies.
There are so many gems in this book that I highlighted like:
"We don't stay in places where we don't feel like we belong."
(Kratz, 2022, p. 52)
"Vulnerability is putting yourself out there without the expectation of reciprocation."
(Kratz, 2022, p. 66)
"Allies ask questions they do not know the answers to."
(Kratz, 2022, p. 133)
Guest blog by Julie Kratz, originally shared on Next Pivot Point.