dad and son highfiving, DEI resources for parentsAll of the DEI Parent Guidebooks we publish help parents guide their kids toward a healthy understanding of all different types of people. Whether those people are gay, transgender, disabled, poor, older, indigenous, whatever, the goal is to guide kids toward seeing  the humanness in everyone.

The purpose of this blog article is to summarize the communication tips we provide in our books. No matter the DEI subject, these are the strategies we use to help parents teach DEI at home. 

Find out what they already know

It's super important to find out what your child already knows before you start guiding them. If you start saying things they already know, they're likely to tune out right away.

The best way to get most kids to open up is to say the minimum. If you use short phrases that reassure and prompt, you're more likely to get a response. The goal here is to get your child feeling comfortable enough to express how they feel.

The other crucial element is timing. Trying to start a conversation when your child is playing a game (digital or otherwise), reading, or watching TV almost never works. They'll probably find your presence intrusive before you even start talking. Plus you won't have their full attention.

TIP: If it's not the right time, wait. As many parents know, timing is everything, especially when you're trying to elicit your child's true feelings. 

If it is the right time:

  • Listen carefully. Once your child starts talking, listen attentively and silently. The only words you need to utter, if any, are to let them know you're eager to learn more. Even if what they're saying is completely against everything you believe about the importance of treating all people with respect, try to remind yourself that this is their time to talk and your time to listen. 
  • Say the minimum. While they're talking, if you feel like you're going to burst if you don't say something, feel free to nod your head and say "hmmm."
  • Seize silence. Even when it feels uncomfortable, if you can stay quiet during moments of silence while they’re gathering their thoughts, you might be surprised by what they say next and what you learn.
  • Be subtle. It’s so important to keep your discovery tactics and opinions to yourself. Otherwise, you run the risk of making them feel like you're judging what they're telling you. The very last thing you want to do is create a barrier for any future meaningful back and forth discussions.
  • Unexpected opportunities. Sometimes opportunities arise unexpectedly that are perfect for learning your child’s true opinion. Starting a conversation about controversial opinions can create an open space for discussion. A scenario like this could potentially give you enormous insight into how your child really feels.

Explain the basics

Keep it simple! Kids learn by processing the information we give them. The simpler the answer to their question, the easier it is for them to process the information. They don't need any information beyond what they're specifically asking.

If your child comes to you after you’ve explained the basics with questions about complicated stuff, of course answer them directly and honestly. But for now, keep your initial discussion simple. It's important for them to feel confident so that they fully believe in their ability to participate in any further discussion.

Offer as many words of encouragement as you can. It's best to begin your child's understanding of any subject with a sense of confidence. The odds of them wanting to learn more will be much greater if they feel confident enough to participate in a mutual conversation.

As you're reviewing the basics, keep in mind that your child needs verbal confirmation that they can ask you questions anytime.

Learn how to answer common questions

It's inevitable that your child will ask questions. The more accepting our society becomes (here's hoping it continues!), the more questions will come up. It's actually a good thing.

Children learn about the world around them by asking questions. The most important part of the process is making sure they get answers from trustworthy, informed adults.

Be prepared to field questions at potentially embarrassing moments. As we all know, kids are unpredictable, and often ask embarrassing questions in public.

honesty is the best policy, how to teach DEI at homeWhatever you do, don't act like you didn't hear the question. Evading questions gives your child the impression that there's something inherently evil about the subject and it shouldn't be talked about. The major risk here is that your child will create their own answer with potentially erroneous information. 

Even if you're not comfortable talking about the subject, fake it. If you're anxious, your child will read into it and assume there's something wrong with talking about it.

A simple Google search should provide the Q&A examples you need to be prepared for their questions. 

Walk the talk

As you probably already know, children rarely buy the 'Do as I say, not as I do' approach. If you say something is important, but your child doesn't see you behaving in a way that matches your words, they know it’s not actually that important to you.

On the flip side, if they see you doing something that's aligned with what you've been telling them, your words will be much more effective. Here are some ideas for setting an example so your child can fully embrace your guidance.
  • Be the example. The best way to teach any subject at home is to model the attitudes, behavior, and values that you want to impart to your child.
  • Be aware of your own biases. If you behave in ways that demonstrate you’re skeptical about something, even though you say you’re all for it, your child will notice and emulate your behavior.
  • Make good media choices. Try to select movies, books, videos, TV shows, etc. that depict the value(s) you're trying to teach. Common Sense Media is a great resource for finding age-appropriate media.
  • Reiterate a family mission statement. Things you say to your kids all the time can have an enormous impact on how their opinions form as they grow. Keep saying things that reflect the value(s) you're trying to teach. It might not seem like they hear you at the time, but it will sink in eventually!
  • Keep the conversation going. It's so frustrating, but true: Getting a concept to sink in with our kids needs to be repeated over and over and over again. Children are a work in progress. Conversations about important subjects need to be a work in progress too.

The good news is that the decisions your kids make as they grow up will be informed by your ongoing efforts to instill a sense of fairness for all people. Keep going!


More DEI Resources for Parents


If you found this article helpful, please check out our growing collection of DEI Guidebooks for Parents. Learning how to have successful conversations with kids about DEI (or any subject) is a crucial element of raising a successful child.
DEI for Parents