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Educating Children About Equal Rights

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Children Respect Self-respect Equal

Children learn about the world from what they see of the world, and unfortunately this means they will learn about discrimination and injustice simply from having it occur around them. But adults can help children to understand equal rights by discussing the subject in an age-appropriate manner.

Addressing differences between people, explaining what it means to respect others, encouraging self-respect in children and modelling appropriate behaviour are all ways by which adults can educate children about equal rights.

Addressing Differences Between People

Children notice much more of the world than they are prepared to understand, so adults can help them work through new concepts by discussing what children see. Children will notice that people have many differences, from their sizes and shapes to their skin colour to what they believe, so adults should be prepared to discuss these differences with children.

Adults can explain that the many differences in people is what makes the world so exciting and that there is no reason to fear people who are different from those with whom the child normally spends time. Adults can also explain that everyone, regardless of any differences, should be treated equally even when some people think differences are a bad thing and only want to be around people who are like themselves. Allowing children to work through why this would be limiting will also help children come to understand the benefits of encouraging equal rights in the world around them.

Explaining Respect

It can be hard for children to understand broad terms like "equal rights", "equality" and "discrimination". Instead of focusing on this vocabulary adults can simply make sure that children understand what it means to show respect for all people. Helping children understand the golden rule - to treat others as they themselves would like to be treated - is a good starting point for discussions about respecting others.

Role playing can also help children understand how others might be feeling if they are left out or teased and such activities can be a springboard for a further discussion of why respecting everyone is important. When instances of discrimination or disrespect do occur in front of a child, an adult should make sure to discuss this event so that (s)he can help the child process what has happened and how it could have turned out differently if everyone respected everyone else.

Encouraging Self-Respect

During discussions of respect and equality adults should take care to explain to children that everyone, including the children themselves, deserve to be treated well. Fostering self-respect in children means helping them to nurture all parts of themselves, even (or especially) those that are different from others. By helping children to love and appreciate all parts of themselves adults will help them channel a similar appreciation into respect for others. Showing respect for, and engaging with, a child's thoughts, talents and interests are great ways to help children develop a health sense of self-respect.

Modelling Appropriate Behaviour

Putting words into action is perhaps the most important part of educating children about equal rights. After discussing equality and respect with children adults should take care to model appropriate behaviour at all times. Children are very aware of when adults say one thing but do another, so making sure that words and deeds match up is important for helping children understand how to turn ideas into actions. If it turns out that what (s)he has said and done don't match up then an adult should be prepared to answer a child's questions about it and why that particular event didn't show the same emphasis on respect and equality that has been discussed previously.

Children learn from what they see and hear, so adults should help them to see and hear the benefits of equal rights. Addressing differences between people, explaining respect, encouraging self-respect and modelling appropriate behaviour are all ways by which adults can help educate children about equality.

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