How to have accessible conversations with parents and carers surrounding diversity, discrimination and inclusion
by Fifi Benham on June 25
11 min read:
Young children will already be forming opinions about diversity that can be easily affected by the biases of adults around them. It’s because of this that educators must work with parents and carers to ensure a positive culture of inclusion and acceptance is being reinforced by all. Building and maintaining good relationships with parents and carers is essential in order to have productive conversations about these topics. This needs to start early on with conversations about inclusion and build from there. Not every parent or carer is going to share the same values so introducing policies and introductions which set clear expectations of inclusive practice are important to establish boundaries and enable accountability. Parents and carers need to feel safe that there are clear policies against discriminatory practice. This helps to form a relationship of mutual respect, wherein it’s understood that education and care are both priorities. Without that respect, conversations about inclusion and discrimination are unlikely to be productive.
Educators must be aware of the intersections of their own identity and how that shapes their experiences. Developing an understanding of oppression and privilege on a broader scale starts with identifying the impact of those concepts on a personal level. This then informs how we engage in these conversations, by helping us recognise that we can’t truly understand oppression we don’t experience. An awareness of how lived experience differs within these conversations is the only way to ensure mutual respect and create a space where people feel safe in what can be very vulnerable conversations. Declaring a space is safe isn’t the same as making people feel listened to. Educators must also be aware that parents and carers won’t necessarily have disclosed all elements of their identity, and avoid making assumptions. It’s important to be willing to listen to experiences which aren’t personally relatable, and to accept that there are things that can’t truly be understood without lived experience. This is also part of why it’s essential to have a diverse staff team, to broaden the collective understanding of discrimination and inclusion.
The Covid 19 pandemic has changed the way we communicate with parents and carers. Different schools and early years settings have been in different situations regarding closures and attendance throughout the pandemic. Even though most of the time attendance has not been restricted by lockdown policies, many parents and carers decided to keep their children home for longer and so there have sometimes been extended periods of no in-person contact. Many settings have had to rework how drop off and pick up work to minimise contact, which unfortunately means less time and often less privacy to talk to parents and carers. Whilst many settings already communicated online to some extent, having online journals has become even more important. Maintaining relationships with families during any extended absence is a challenge so it’s important that key people are able to keep in touch. Especially in the context of a pandemic where disabilities, ableism, classism, and medical racism were factors that made some people more vulnerable, it’s been important to be patient and talk openly about risk.
It is also important to note that even though less face-to-face conversation can make things difficult, phone calls or video calls may be more accessible for many. As things start to go back to ‘normal’ it’s essential to continue communicating in whichever way works best for specific staff and parents or carers. That way, people who might otherwise be left out of important conversations (due to disabilities, time constraints, language barriers etc) can still engage in a way that’s accessible. Especially with conversations about diversity and inclusion, it’s important people are allowed to communicate the way they find most effective in order for the conversation to be productive. Being able to hold meetings and have conversations face-to-face shouldn’t mean getting rid of potentially more accessible alternatives.
All parents and carers will engage with educators in different ways and to a different extent. Sometimes this will be due to a cultural difference, as different cultures place different value upon multiple adults contributing to raising a child. Whatever the reason, it’s important to respect parent’s choices and avoid becoming surveillants instead of equal parts of a professional relationship. Less engagement doesn’t mean parents and carers don’t care, or aren’t actively involved enough in their child’s home life.
Educators will likely already be implementing activities surrounding diversity and acceptance, so sharing pictures and explanations of these is a great way to include parents and carers. Observation systems often mean an activity only gets seen if a child demonstrated a new skill or if their key person got a good picture of them. Those observations are obviously important too, but it’s best if important activities can be shared with everyone. Many parents and carers worry about when or how to introduce concepts of diversity and oppression to their children, so sharing ideas and resources is a way to help them out. This can also help open up a dialogue about these topics, as people may have questions or share their own or their child’s response to the activity. Sharing activities can also be a way to extend them. For example, if the original activity was looking at books about different families with puppets and dolls, parents and carers could be encouraged to look at, or even bring in, photos so children can make and tell stories about their own family.
Children repeat what they hear so it’s important educators understand that having these conversations with children is a part of communicating effectively with parents and carers. Educators will only see parents and carers briefly most of the time, whereas they spend several hours with children so it makes sense to value talking to children about diversity, discrimination and inclusion as a way of bringing these topics into conversations children will have at home. There will always be a range of parents and carers from those who support introducing these topics to children to those who have outdated views and believe children shouldn’t be learning about discrimination. It’s therefore important to be prepared to justify why you’ve had certain conversations with children, and how those conversations were presented to be age-appropriate. In particular, there is a recurring argument that children shouldn’t learn about LGBTQ+ identities, stemming from stereotypes of LGBTQ+ people as predatory. Educators must understand the importance of teaching children about different identities, and recognise that children in their care will belong to a range of communities, as well as have clear plans in place to address any backlash.
Children will also repeat what they’ve heard at home which may sometimes provide insight into where parents or carers stand on particular issues. Occasionally, this might necessitate an uncomfortable conversation if a child has repeated something problematic. It’s important to have these conversations and to use them as a learning opportunity for all involved, as leaving bias unquestioned will only reinforce it. If educators approach the conversation with an accusatory tone they are likely to be met with a defensiveness that will shut the dialogue down so it’s best to be prepared to give ideas on how they can positively influence the child’s views instead of trying to find out where the child’s statement came from. Children may also repeat something positive, so it’s important educators also recognise that they may learn good ways to talk about diversity and inclusion, or good resources to use, from parents and carers. This can be encouraged further by inviting families to bring books and objects from home, so that they have the opportunity to share elements of what matters to them. Often diverse resources can become tokenistic by treating culture as a costume or reaching for stereotypes so it can be much more productive to utilise resources and stories shared by children and their families.
Overall, the key to having successful and accessible conversations about diversity, discrimination and inclusion with parents and carers is to prioritise trust and mutual respect. It won’t always be particularly easy or comfortable but it is essential to prioritise these topics as we must all work together to ensure we raise children who value acceptance and celebrate each other’s differences.