My children, Elizabeth and Oliver are aged 4 and 3 and our conversations about inequality in the world are really only beginning. It arises in the context of issues close to home and further afield, such as the global south.
I think most parents want to instil a sense of kindness and fairness in their children. I feel it’s so important to have these conversations early and while doing so, it is critical to try and expand beyond a narrative of ‘poor people‘ who are in another place that you simply donate or ‘give’ to. The practice of charitable engagement through schools is well established, but without meaningful conversations about how the world is, what is fair or unfair, or how life might be for people in certain countries, it can be too easy for the concept of inequality to not properly register or feature in our children’s lives and the instinct to help or address unfairness may not develop in the same way.
The conversation can come up naturally, e.g., through NGO advertising, or we can raise it ourselves – I frequently tell my children about my time volunteering with SERVE! I try and keep it simple and be as honest as possible. We talk about how big the world is, how there are lots of different countries and different people and that there are children in all these countries.
I try to come at it from an empathetic point of view, highlighting common ground – children who might be the same age as them, also learning letters and numbers right now like they are, but that their lives are a little different.
Pictures and videos help. Over time I hope to show them that it is important to be aware of it and will frequently highlight opportunities where we can try to learn more. I think it is also ok to say that it’s complex, to say, “that’s a hard question” and to say “the world isn’t entirely fair” – just keep the window of learning open. Building it into general experiences and lessons about kindness is ideal.
Common ground with a human, empathetic, relatable approach is key. In time, I think SERVE’s learning resources will also be very useful! If we want our children to be kind, empathetic, socially conscious, and brave global citizens – let us keep talking about the global south. If there is to be hope for really addressing inequality in the future, the work starts now.
By Diane Duggan (SERVE Alumni, Barrister at Law & Mum of 2)