Pondering Equality and how we teach it to our children.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

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I’ve been invited to write about Equality for a new book that launches next year for 10 year olds.

So let’s explore the best ways to bring up tolerant, curious well-balanced children who understand the importance of equality – and I invite you to ask yourself: how much am I aware of how I am  shaping my childrens attitudes?

When I was reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, as a former teacher, it got me thinking about prejudice, discrimination, tolerance and equality.

I think kids are born with wide-eyed curiosity and an instinctive sense of justice and fairness. You only have to observe and listen to your child playing to see how they naturally know when something is not fair, and hear them complaining, usually rather loudly, ‘but that’s not fair!’ but do your children know what equality really means?

How can we help our children understand equality?

Many people say they are treated equally when everyone is treated the same. But when you think about this for a few minutes, you can see that treating everyone the same may not, in fact, be fair. If everyone is allowed to go to the cinema what happens when the door to the theatre is too narrow to admit a wheelchair? What if there is a flight of stairs that leads to that door? While everyone may be treated the same, people who use wheelchairs would not actually have an equal opportunity to go to that cinema.

This concept may seem relatively simple, but many children don’t understand this concept. Younger children often see the world in black or white, good or bad, fair or unfair as they have difficulty seeing shades of grey or in making comparisons. They have trouble understanding equality when people have different needs. To understand that everyone has rights, even people who are different from “us,” is to begin to understand equality.

Look for ways from sharing out sweets, to dividing up cake, fruit or pizza to discuss what’s ‘fair’ and to help your child see that fairness doesn’t always mean equal.

One simple way to teach children about equality is to read them stories, watch the news or enjoy a film together and ask open ended questions that get them thinking. Asking, ‘Does that seem fair to you?’ and exploring their answers allows children to form their own opinions around equality which helps your children to become the citizens we want them to be. I call it ‘Talking & Teaching’ as you are passing on your values around equality all the time in the way that you speak, behave and act even unconsciously, as your children are watching and listening to you all the time.

Here are some questions I ask the parents that I work with to ponder & reflect upon:
·Just for this week notice how you talk about others, situations and fairness.
·What language do you use?
·What words do you use and in what tone of voice?
·What beliefs and values are you passing on to your children?
·How do you teach fairness amongst your family members ?
·Become a detached observer and ask yourself: what messages are your kids picking up consciously and unconsciously from you?

As parents, we can have a profound influence over how our kids react to a variety of cultures, ethnicities, disabilities, and in how they view women, older people and the underprivileged because we are their primary role models.

Teaching your children from an early age to ask questions rather than judge when they see something that looks different or sounds unfair is a great way to encourage curiosity. Try to answer their questions with questions to get them thinking, or with facts, rather than judgments of your own, as this is also a great way to help them embrace equality.

Let’s teach them to think critically about rights and freedoms so they can grow up to be the fair-minded people we need in this world.

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