At a recent Bubble working parent club event, Vese Aghogovbia, Founder of Philly and Friends spoke to us about raising actively inclusive kids. At Bubble, we host working parent club events every month. Find out more about how to sign up.
Here is the excellent advice that Vese shared with us:
The importance of representation in raising actively inclusive kids
There is a correlation between representation and teaching our children to love and be kind. You might wonder what representation has to do with love. But if we dig deeper and we uncover one of the truths about our law is that we are only able to love what we understand and we can only understand what we’re exposed to now.
The sushi analogy
Think about Sushi. I can only say I like Sushi if I’ve actually tasted it. If I haven’t tasted it, then I would have an opinion or I would have my own bias towards it. I know representation is nowhere near Sushi, but it’s just to give you an understanding of why I say there’s a big correlation between representation and being inclusive.
Representation is for the betterment of us all
People often think that talks about representation are reserved for the underrepresented. However, it’s not. I believe that the fight for representation is for the betterment of us all. We all benefit from seeing a full picture of what the world truly looks like, particularly for our children. It broadens their horizon when we teach and expose our children to other worlds and possibilities.They learn to make room for more.
A well exposed child can sit in any environment and have a conversation with anyone because they have an understanding of or a little bit of an affinity to their culture, to their religion, their beliefs. And so we’re actually helping ourselves and our children. It’s not about other people, it is about them, but our children also benefit a lot from it.
so I just wanted to drop that and just so that everyone can understand why everyone should be an ally for representation across the board.
To help with this, to help with your understanding, I like to go into science. I’m originally an engineer.
Neural plasticity suggests that our brains take shape and form connections based on our learning experiences, meaning our brains are found based on what we expose our children to. So if they are not exposed to something, then their brains will have to adjust to accepting, rejecting or being indifferent to it when they are eventually exposed to it.
Research also says that as early as the age two Children start reasoning based on race. By 2.5, they begin to choose the playmates based on racial identification And by five racial prejudices formed.
I want us to sit with that because it means that by the time they’re going to Reception they already have their biases formed, which shows that a lot of work has to be done in the playroom.
We teach fine motor skills, we encourage learning through play, in the playroom through puzzles and toys. We teach empathy in the playroom. We can also teach empathy inclusivity in the playroom just by the choice of toys which we put in their playroom.
And so these decisions are made.
An example of why actively inclusive kids matter
I’ll give an example, about two years ago, my daughter was in the playground and there was another white girl who was around the same age as her and they kept sizing each other up.
My daughter is very confident but very reserved. She will size you up from top to bottom before she approaches. And it seemed like the other girl had a similar temperament. So I kept watching them and I was laughing like you know, just go up to each other and say hello, that’s as simple as that.
So they kept doing that and another white girl comes in of a similar age either a year younger or older and she sees both of them. She looks at my daughter, looks at the other girl, looks at my daughter and looks at the other girl and then goes to play with the white girl.
It’s nothing against the girl, she is four years old. But it just shows you that we would naturally gravitate towards what we know and what we identify with. It’s just natural.
And so teaching our children and helping our children build an affinity to a different type of religion, belief. It’s helping them become desensitised to it. It is less of a shock to their system.
The importance of diversity in the playroom
Imagine my daughter, my daughter has a range of toys in her playroom with different cues. While she’s growing up she has a white dog, she’s playing with it, caring for it, combing the hair, you know, just taking it to bed, dressing it up, when she gets to school, she finds it easier to relate to the white child. It is because her playroom has been filled with lots and lots of colours, lots of views, lots of beliefs.
This is why introducing diversity in the home, particularly in the playroom is very important by ensuring that our children’s toy box and bookshelves are diverse. We are teaching them to love genuinely to understand differences and to embrace diversity. We’re giving them a beautiful gift of representation.
I always say that whether you were underrepresented or very represented, you didn’t have a full picture of what the world world looks like. So regardless of what side of the fence you sit on, you were robbed of diversity.
The world is so colourful, so beautiful with many different cultures. I love the books my daughter brings home from school. Her book one day is about China, another day is about the moon, another day It’s about something really just beautiful and that’s what it should be.
That’s what our playroom should reflect the world as it truly is. Because when we do that, we give our Children the gift of acceptance and when they step into any room, they’re able to initially fit in and not feel uncomfortable.
Positive representation matters
I also genuinely believe that our children need to see themselves and others represented in the books they read, the toys they play with and the media they consume and it needs to be a positive representation.
I say positive because once my daughter brought home a book from the library and it was the ugly duckling. I thought, oh, the ugly duckling.
Well, we know the story, but this particular version, my goodness! The duck said, I do not like my dull brown skin or colour or something and then he kept talking about dull brown and it was my husband who actually noticed it.
He came to me and said, “Have you read this book? I’m uncomfortable with it. I can’t read it. Who is my daughter?”
At the end it says I’m no longer a duck, ugly and brown. I am now beautiful and white.
And it’s just those little things that for my daughter reading that I know she’s very perceptive. She would have asked me questions. And so when I say not just any type of representation, we need to ensure that it’s positive. It’s not stereotypical. It doesn’t have to be that the Chinese person in the book is the geek, you know, with glasses and you know those sorts of things, stereotypes.
Exposing children to positive representation
We need to ensure that what we are exposing our children to is positive and I know that it’s hard because of what the world feeds us.
But it’s something that we need to start becoming conscious of so that we can help our children because positive representation helps children grow up with a secure self image, appreciating themselves as they are. And learning to respect others, what we’re doing with this is teaching them to respect differences.
When they learn how to respect differences, they would also be good with conflict resolution because what is conflict resolution? Differences, accepting that we can all have different opinions and it’s okay.
We can all have different beliefs and I can still respect you even though I don’t agree with your beliefs and it’s okay.
How representation or the lack of it can affect identity
I’ll give another example briefly about representation.
So I am born on the 29th February which means that I have my birthday once in four years. And as simple as this is the fact that as growing up as a child, my birthday was not on the calendar. I felt so insecure.
Any time near February I get excited about my birthday but once it gets to the 27th of February, I start feeling I would lose my identity somehow because I already knew that somewhere along the line, the 28th will come and then my birthday will be skipped.
And all of a sudden it’s the first of March and it wasn’t until I became an adult, I realised how it affected my self identity.
My mother did a fantastic job. She would go all out on my birthday just to make me feel special. Tell me how special I am. But even though she did that every February, I would still feel displaced.
Now this is my birthday that is not written on my forehead. You will never meet me and know that I was born on the 29th February unless I told you.
Now think about something like skin colour or like having to wear hijab or beliefs or religion or things like that where people can identify, see you and instantly know that that’s what you identify with, imagine not being represented.
How would that affect a child’s esteem? and so I use that example to just explain how representation or the lack of it can affect identity.