Inclusion is, and always has been, a cornerstone of Girl Scouting. Inclusion honors each girl’s uniqueness and difference and benefits everyone. Especially now, as girls are growing up during a time of rapid demographic and social change, inclusion is more important than ever.
Some of you troop leaders of younger troops might be thinking, “Are my Daisies even old enough to understand complex concepts like race—and judging people based on the color of their skin? And moreover, do my Daisies even notice differences between people?”
According to Derald Wing Sue, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, kids start noticing race around age four and become curious about things like skin color. If we avoid talking about difference because we don’t want to draw attention to that difference, kids will fill in these gaps of knowledge and come up with explanations about how the world works themselves. While sometimes kid logic can be downright amusing (like when my daughter is convinced that the GPS is actually a talking robot in the sky that tells you where to go), it can be much more worrying when it comes to the conclusions they draw about people of different races, abilities, gender/sexual identity, religion, or class.
So, how do we help girls embrace and normalize differences and be the inclusive force we wish to see in the world? Let’s explore:
- Be open to their questions. Kids are naturally curious and will ask questions (usually, a ton, and sometimes, at inappropriate times!). While it might make you uncomfortable when your girl asks a blunt question about another person, shushing her or ignoring her question will not only make her think it’s taboo to talk about difference, but also that it’s bad to be different. Noticing difference is not the problem—treating people differently based on that difference is.
- Acknowledge differences, acknowledge similarities. We all bring something different to the table—that’s part of what makes life so dynamic and interesting. Talk with your girls about the ways they’re different from each other, and the ways that they’re similar.
- Present a realistic view of a diverse world. Take a look at the books and media you and your girls consume—does it cover a wide range of cultures, backgrounds, and abilities? If not, seek out resources that highlight and celebrate everyone’s experience. Reading and seeing representations of people in “atypical” roles is also a great way to dispel stereotypes. (Some good places to start: A Mighty Girl, Teaching for Change, University of Wisconsin—books about disabilities, and The Conscious Kid.)
- Explore your own biases. Everyone has unconscious biases where our background, personal experience, and societal norms impact our attitudes and actions without us even realizing it. When we don’t reflect on (and work to reform) these biases, we end up passing these negative attitudes onto the next generation. (Some helpful resources: Teaching Tolerance and Guidelines for Challenging Racism.)
You might have shied away from talking about this topic with your girls before (it’s a difficult one to broach!), but it’s never too late to start the conversation. It’s also okay to not know exactly what to say to your girls, but being open to talking about difference (in a non-judgmental way) shows your girls that it’s normal and important to talk about.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. In her free time, Lily enjoys going for long runs, reading, and spending time with her family (including her five-year-old daughter who’ll be a Daisy this year!).