Dr Scarlet believes teaching inclusivity to our children starts when they are babies or toddlers. We can start by using language that demonstrates the many differences that surround us on a daily basis.
“We sometimes think we will wait till children can speak or walk to do this. But we live in a beautifully, culturally diverse place. As a parent, you want to reflect that there is cultural diversity and that we're living side by side; that can be done through songs and stories,” she says.
A technique Dr Scarlet calls ‘language learning’ is another simple way to incorporate an acknowledgement and acceptance of diversity into a young child’s world view.
“When you point out a dog you can say, ‘It’s a dog and that one is a Dalmatian’. That way you are teaching them that not only is that a dog but that there are different types of dogs,” she says.
Starting this approach early means it becomes an automatic way of seeing things – not only will they form language that expresses an understanding of diversity, but they will become comfortable with it, in whatever form.
“It’s also about teaching children to know: There's lots of difference around me. I don't have to be a Dalmatian. I don't have to be Poodle. I'm just going to be myself (a little Corgi or whatever I am). And, I can see that those other things exist around me and I should not harm them,” she says.
Teaching belonging, not just kindness
Parents often approach issues of diversity using kindness as their guide. But while Dr Scarlet is clear that kindness has plenty of merit, she says messages about belonging can be more effective when teaching children about diversity.
“We often talk about kindness – kindness is a beautiful concept. But it also placates difference: 'Just be kind to that person'. The language we should use is fair or unfair… What’s a fair thing to happen in this situation, what’s an unfair thing to happen in this situation?”.
Don’t brush off difference
Dr Scarlet also believes we should be careful of brushing aside difference purely to help children feel better.
“I can tell you I don’t think you’re fat and you won’t believe me. Just telling children something doesn’t mean we’ve convinced them. They will pick up biases and will know when they exclude or are being excluded. Instead, the message we want to give is that everybody has the right to be who they are and to belong on their own terms, including children.”