Little Sushanth came home from a dentist appointment and asked his mother if there were boy dentists? Amused by this question, his mother asked him why he thought so. Sushanth replied that he was shocked to see a male dentist as he had not seen a male doctor before. An honest answer from this 3-year-old made his mother realise that he had seen only women doctors, teachers, and music teachers? In his home environment, too, Sushanth’s mother works, cooks, cleans, teaches him, and plays with him.
This is not a story. I know someone who already lives this reality. Sushanth’s parents created an environment where he could observe and learn that women can naturally do everything and anything. All households are not like this. Many families in India unconsciously teach many biases. Children are an integral part of our society, and from a young age, they are stuffed into cookie-cutter moulds. Stop the unconscious bias early on. Creating awareness is the first step on the tall ladder to a bias-free world. As your children enter the professional world, they can be torch bearers in various employee assistance programs, as these tips will help you cull unconscious biases.
Traditionally, our country has seen multi-generations living in the same house. Grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins co habituate. And children pick up biases by observing the behaviours of those around them. It is pertinent that the familial environment becomes the front line of change and can serve as an example of inclusiveness. The unconscious biases we have imbibed significantly impact how we behave, dress, carry ourselves, and what work we choose to do.
All is not lost. Here are some doable parenting tips that can instil values of diversity and inclusiveness in the next generation and remove bias.
- Have an honest conversation.
By talking to your children about gender and other unconscious bias, morals of equality and inclusivism are taught. It’s important to address the issue immediately and not let it soak into your child’s mind. A pro tip shared by a parent is to read bedtime stories that have both male and female protagonists. She recommends ‘Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls’ and ‘Boys Who Dare To Be Different.’ These real-life stories would inspire your young ones and motivate them to face outdated patriarchal norms head-on.
- Everything starts at home.
Parents are the child’s first role models. By both parents plying equal and quality attention on the child, they grow up comprehending that it is okay for the mother to be strong and the father to be weak, sometimes. By equally dividing household chores and family care between boys and girls, you set an example of gender equality. Assign domestic responsibilities equally to all the kids at home. Don’t assign based on gender. On a rotational basis, distribute small tasks like folding clothes, setting the table, cleaning, gardening, etc. Imbibing these from a young age will help your child become a well-rounded individual.
- All voices matter.
By exposing your children to different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, you are nudging them towards embracing diverse role models. They realise and learn that the world is large, and people in the greater society are not alike. From a young age, children learn to respect and assimilate diversity. Encourage and support your kids’ participation in activities that would change their attitude on gender bias, generational bias, differences between people (the list is inexhaustible), and show them the importance of sharing their knowledge with others. Listen to your kids; many have them have valuable contributions to our society’s issues.
- Contest stereotypes.
It is imbibed in many of us that gender is a biological difference. The greater truth is that gender is a social construct that we learn from a young age that makes us conform to certain roles throughout our lives. If your young son is interested in exploring the cosmetics on your dressing table, don’t shun him. Answer his questions like ‘Can boys wear bindhi? You might say, ‘Most don’t, but, why not?!’
- There is a world outside the home.
Children witness biases in school, the marketplace, TV & social media, and the street. Parents repeatedly swear on the effectiveness of having an open conversation. Skin colour is a topic that has been plaguing us for centuries. Tell your child that their skin colour is lovely and different colours do not mean inferior or superior. Both boys and girls gravitate towards their gender and wish to play only with them at a certain age. If your girl is under the assumption that she mustn’t play with boys, rectify this misunderstanding by making it known to her that friends come in all shapes and sizes.
- Learned behaviours.
Children are like sponges – they soak in everything they hear and see. As a parent, you can lead by example and teach them not to give in to stereotypes of racism, ageism, sexism, and other unrealistic standards. Evaluate your behaviour to check if you are passing statements like ‘boys don’t cry.’ Revise it. Instead, say, ‘you are brave.’ Especially parents of male children need to be cautious, as sayings like this are pound a penny. Unique to Indian households are domestic helpers and employees. As a parent, treat your driver/ maid/ gardener with the respect and decorum you would like a non-employee. Get your child to help by clearing their toys before the maid comes to their room.
We propagate notions of inclusivity and equality by making small talk, maintaining eye contact, and being courteous to all we meet in our daily lives – like restaurant waiters and supermarket checkout clerks. Challenging stereotypes and breaking the bias inspire young minds to aim high. Foster a positive environment and teach children how to act, as, after all, action is the loudest of languages.
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