Equity is arguably one of the most crucial topics in society’s current dialogue. Terms like these are tossed around in the media, in our workplaces and in our classrooms, yet children and adults alike can find the topic confusing.

What is equity? 

Equity is often used interchangeably with equality, but they have distinctly different meanings. While equality demands everyone should be treated the same regardless of differences, equity is giving everyone what they need to succeed. Imagine a family of four, including two adults and two children, taking a bike ride. Equality says that all four have the same size bicycle. Equity, on the other hand, says the children need smaller bicycles so they can reach the pedals because they are shorter in height, while the adults need bigger bikes because they have longer legs and can reach the pedals more easily.

Every child deserves the opportunity to be successful based on his or her unique gifts and talents, but not every child has equitable opportunities. 

Why talk about equity with children?

It’s critical that children understand equity and the many barriers to achieving it, including race, gender and socio-economic status. If parents or teachers stay silent around the topic of equity, many children will begin to develop their own perception, of themselves or those around them based on these labels. 

Conversations around inequity are crucial. Children are talking about these barriers, whether or not their parents or other adults are creating safe places for those important conversations. Children process the world through small experiences that, when compounded over time, shape their own identity and their perception of others, including people of other races, ethnicities, genders and socio-economic statuses. 

It is crucial that parents ensure “their voice is in the room,” says Momentous Institute’s Dr. Garica Sanford, training director. “When we don’t talk to children about topics like race, we miss opportunities to help them understand the unique ethnic and cultural differences that exist and enrich our world.”

How to start the conversation:

Like adults, children can identify inequity in the world. They may see two children being treated differently at school or they may hear a story on the news that highlights inequity. Adults can use these opportunities to open a conversation in developmentally appropriate ways. An adult might ask a child what she thinks about an experience of inequity, or if she’s seen other examples of inequity and how she might handle it. It may be as simple as saying, “there are times when people are treated differently just because of their race or gender. How do you feel about that?” 

Famous journalist and author Nicholas Kristof said it best, “talent is universal; opportunity is not." Children have an opportunity to create equity around them if they are informed of what equity is and why it is important for the social emotional health of our community. 

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