Studies show that children as young as three years old can identify differences and similarities between people. Kids also observe and absorb more than we realize which is just one reason why proactively talking with kids about people different than themselves is important. We sat down with Natasha Smith, Head of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Sanford Health to learn more about why these conversations are so important and how you can navigate discussions with your kids about different people to foster acceptance and inclusion.

Talking to kids about people’s differences can encompass a lot: race, class, ability, religion, language, body size, gender expression, and sexuality are just a few identities that make people unique. According to Natasha, it’s important to have these conversations with children because our communities are very diverse. “By starting these conversations young, it can normalize topics that allow kids to see their peers and all their important identities. When children are encouraged to inquire about or share about their various identities, it builds confidence and a sense of belonging.”

After learning about why these conversations are so important, you might be wondering how to start these conversations with your kids, especially because they can feel uncomfortable at first. Here are Natasha’s tips: 

1. Educate yourself first so you have insights to share on the various identities that show up in your community. Aren’t sure where to start? Here are some tips and ideas: 

2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable; because conversations around race or religion have been avoided in older generations, it may be uncomfortable as you navigate thoughtful curiosity and modeling that for younger children.
3. Have some conversation starters ready. When having these conversations, be sure to convey to a child that the intent when talking about differences with others shouldn’t be interrogation, but rather curiosity. Our intent and motivation behind the conversations and questions we ask will always shine through and kids will intuitively notice. Here are some conversation starters you can use with kids to explore and uplift differences: 

Now that you know how to start the conversation, what tips do you have for continually navigating the conversation and fostering ongoing discussions with kids as they grow up? 

Remember that even though these conversations may be uncomfortable, they remain important to have with young children. By leaning into these conversations and modeling inclusive behavior, children are more likely to grow up celebrating the differences and strengths of those around them.

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