How to Talk About Inequality with Your Kids

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Word Inequality cut with scissors to two parts In and Equality, gray background, top view

We like to think we’re all the same, but truthfully, we’re not. We look different, sound different, have different abilities, opportunities, incomes, family situations, and live in different areas. Many parents don’t know how to talk about inequality with kids.

Discussing inequalities with kids isn’t easy, because it forces us to recognize this basic fact: we are all different. 

 These differences can be simple, such as our accents, which vary depending on where we live. Or they can be complex, like income, race, what opportunities we have, what country we live in, and family circumstances. It helps if we can talk about these issues with our kids in a way that makes sense to them.

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Happy team of friends children resting on grass together in park

Types of Inequality

Money

Children may not consciously realize the implications of different financial circumstances but do recognize when kids have more than others. Some of their friends have big houses, fancy toys, and go on expensive holidays. 

Income inequality is hard to discuss with your child because it’s likely to generate envy if not handled appropriately. 

Race

There would be no differences in how we’re treated in an ideal world, depending on our race. The Declaration of Independence says, “All men are created equal,” which is a fundamental founding principle of our country. 

But ample evidence shows that some races get treated differently depending on little more than their appearance or their physiology. 

Large Group portrait of pre-adolescent school kids smiling in front of the school building. Back to school photo of a diverse group of children wearing backpacks and ready to go to school

Opportunities

Inequalities of opportunity are often connected to money, but it can also be related to addresses or family members or circumstances. Jobs are often harder to get in less-populated areas, but conversely, houses are more expensive in bigger towns. 

The quality of schools our kids have access does also depend largely on where we live. 

Global inequality

While we certainly have poverty, inequality, and violence in America, we don’t live in a war zone. 

We take for granted our clean water, clean air, and our right to obtain an education for ourselves and our kids. But news stories from around the world show that what we take for granted isn’t necessarily the norm. 

Family circumstances

The typical family unit of mom, dad, and a select number of children is no longer the expected one. A child can be raised by a single parent, step-parents, parents of the same gender, or shuttled between homes. 

Children of these families should be entitled to the same advantages as the child of the traditional unit. 

Father and son discussions are about something serious

How to Talk About Inequality With Kids

It helps if we can remember that kids see the world in a fairly straightforward, basic light. Their playground friends don’t come with dollar signs tattooed on their faces, so our kids won’t know who is rich. 

While they may recognize that their friends look different, they won’t have any real idea of what that difference means. Kids see people of color but don’t know intrinsically to think different of them.

So when our children are young, the very real inequalities that exist in the wider world don’t matter to them. Sure, that rich kid has lots of toys, but the poor kid has a box, and boxes are fun! My friend from overseas can’t speak English so well, but his mom cooks the best dinner ever!

However, they will need to know that what they may perceive as normal isn’t normal for everyone. They will see inequalities on the television, at school, in the neighborhood, and in their friends’ homes.

If they come to us and ask us about these, we need to help them address these somewhat disturbing differences. Parents: be comfortable to talk to your children about social justice.

Discussing inequalities with children should be done in a way that the child understands, without feeling too overwhelmed. Your kids need a safe space. They need to realize that they can’t change the world to make it fairer to their friends. They also need to realize that not having the same benefits as another friend doesn’t mean they are missing out. 

Being honest with our kids about inequalities will help them understand that unfairness exists but doesn’t have to be traumatizing. 

We can teach them that even though their friend is different, it should not affect how we treat them. And conversely, our differences should not affect how others treat us, and our kids need to know that.

If our kids come to us with questions about why their friends are different, talk to them about equality and how skin colors don’t make the person. Remind them that we are, technically, all equal, even if our circumstances make this difficult at times. 

Children are a blank canvas when it comes to perception, so we can treat these discussions as handy development opportunities.  

Group Of Elementary School Pupils Sitting On Floor In Classroom

Practical methods for dealing with inequality 

Our kids can’t save the world, and so they shouldn’t feel guilty about the differences between their friends and them. That doesn’t mean that there is nothing they can do when confronted with inequality. There are ways we can encourage our kids to embrace a fairer society without overwhelming them with sadness. 

Teach your children about sharing toys at playgroup, but not to expect an exact level of reciprocity. The different kids may not have the same fancy gadget, but they might be experts in getting it to work.

Your kid shares the toy, the other shares their knowledge and ability, adding up to a win-win situation.

Other things to remind your children about when it comes to inequalities:

1) Recognize differences, but don’t stigmatize them. Be clear with children that while their friends are different, that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends. Different does not mean wrong. 

2) Welcome diversity. Remind kids that life without a little bit of variety would be pretty boring! 

3) Teach kids to value qualities other than visible ones. The child who may not have many toys may have great story-telling abilities and can keep friends entertained for hours. 

4) Encourage kids to view the world around them differently. Get involved in projects like, “Kindness Rocks” or “Doing Good Together.”

Mother scolding her little son in a park

Entertainment for the whole community

 At Twin Cities Kids Club, we value every person, no matter where they come from or what they look like. We want to encourage all parents. Our free membership is for all families in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. Join today!

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