Just last week I was talking to my son’s Lead Teacher and she mentioned that parents have asked her about how to incorporate Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) into their child’s development. While I’m no expert on the topic, I do spend a lot of time and energy focused on this particular aspect of parenting. The following tips have helped me tremendously on my quest to raise my two boys to be inclusive leaders

  1. Commit

If you’ve ever attended a Diversity and Inclusion training, you will learn quickly that this work is intentional. You have to both value inclusion and work to practice and model it every day. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and exhausting.

So why do it? Before you start, I recommend defining your own “why.” There are three main reasons that I choose to incorporate D&I into my parenting approach:

  • I value strong, healthy relationships and believe they are the key to true happiness. If you’re into Ted Talks, I recommend checking out the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
  • The demographics in the U.S. are changing, and I believe my children will need to be adept at building relationships across cultures and differences in order to be happy and successful.
  • Early childhood is a critical time for brain development and introducing these complex topics as early as possible is important to me.

Commitment in Action:

When considering schools for your children, ask about the school’s commitment to D&I. How do they demonstrate this commitment? Who is in leadership – do these individuals represent our broader community?

2. Self-Reflect

Parenting, in my experience, is very rewarding. It is also very humbling! My children inspire me daily to look into the mirror and think about who I am and what I stand for. I believe it is difficult to model and teach inclusive behaviors to my children without looking inward first. Since D&I is a life-long learning process with no end point, I have found that continuous self-reflection helps me to stay focused along the way.

Self-Reflection in Action:

Ask yourself these key questions…

-What do I value and how did I learn those values?

-Why is diversity and inclusion important to me as a parent?

-What perception do I have about people from various backgrounds (people of color, people with disabilities, Veterans, elderly, people with different religious beliefs)?

-How do I feel about sexual orientation and gender differences?

-What role does privilege play in my life? What privilege do I have and how can I use it to help those who do not experience that same privilege?

It may help to talk with your partner or friend about these topics too. Loved ones can help us see areas where we have implicit bias. Please note, it is natural and human to have bias! Self-reflection helps us to become aware of what our individual biases are and where they come from.

3. Expand Your Network

I attended a training a while ago that challenged me to think about my network, both personal and professional. The trainer said, “Notice anything?” Everyone kind of shrugged wondering what we were supposed to notice. She said, “Do you all kind of look alike? Have the same interests and beliefs?” Then it hit us – we tend to interact with people who are like us as opposed to those who are different. After that training, I went home and talked to my life partner. How could I support my children in building strong, healthy relationships with people from different backgrounds, if I wasn’t doing it myself?! I got to work right away to change this.

Expanding Your Network in Action:

There are tons of ways to accomplish this part of the D&I journey – volunteer, attend networking/diversity events, mentor a young person, and/or inquire at your workplace about D&I initiatives and get involved.

Here are some things we’ve enjoyed doing as a family:

  • Attend local high school basketball games – we are rooting for De La Salle this year!
  • Adopt-A-Family for the holidays – our kids help us shop for a family who can’t afford gifts!
  • Visit a Book Fair featuring diverse authors of children’s books – see a few of our favorite books below!

Some other ideas include…

4. Pay Attention to Messaging

Think about all of the messages your child receives through books, movies, media, toy stores, etc. Start with the books you have at home, who are the characters in those books? Do they represent a wide variety of human experience? Think about if you were a parent from a different cultural or religious background, are there books, toys, and TV shows that you could identify with? How are different groups portrayed in the media? I want my children to see people from different backgrounds in leadership roles. It is also important for my children to understand that their peers may come from a very different home life. I try to expose my children to as many different people as possible and encourage them to think about how other people live. I hope that as they grow, they will learn to solve problems by listening and inviting other perspectives into the conversation.

Paying Attention to Messaging in Action:

The next time you go to the library, intentionally choose a book or two that your child wouldn’t ordinarily select. Look for books that both respect and celebrate people who are different from you and/or your child.

Here are a few of our favorite books:


Justice Makes a Difference
by Dr. Artika Tyner and Jacklyn Milton

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña

Conclusion

Incorporating D&I into child development is a journey that requires discipline. I make a lot of mistakes and don’t always have answers. For me, it is important to stay with it. My children are counting on me to build a safe environment that invites respectful dialogue. They need me to support them as we navigate a very complex world together.

By: Hannah Carney

Tony & Matteo’s Mama