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Communicating with children

Guideline 4C

Ensure communication is free of stereotypes


From traditional stories to modern media, stereotypes of all forms are found in nearly every country. They include class, ethnicity, illness, disability, religion, age and gender. Even if it has nothing to do with the main message, stereotypes subtly and unconsciously reinforce people’s beliefs about themselves and others. The stereotype could be about mothers-in-law who are depicted as shrews, older men with vicious tempers, the poor as dirty, boys who are bullies, people with disabilities as always in need of help, or unattractive and fat children as “bad” or unintelligent.

Yet when these stereotypes are challenged and consciously changed, it changes the frame of development communication: we create good practices and break out of stereotypical moulds. We humanize, inspire and create respect for diversity.

© Maldives/2000/Yassin Hameed

Positive Example: Ensure communication is free of stereotypes

Maldivian Babies (UNICEF Maldives) is a photo book about all kinds of babies. It was designed to implicitly celebrate each and every infant and young child in the country, while also giving ideas to caregivers about how all children should be healthy as well as loved, and can be confident and beautiful. A conscious decision was made to include dark-skinned children, especially girls, in a country where being light-skinned is considered a sign of beauty.

On a page of “beautiful babies,” a young child with learning difficulties was included along with a baby who was premature. The project team discussed how the parents of sick, low-birth weight or disabled children were usually treated with pity: they were rarely if ever told, “Your baby is beautiful!” The book ensured that every baby and family portrayed would hear these words. It is a model in presenting and celebrating a wide range of differences found in any community and supports child survival, development and protection. Download book

 Turning Theory into Practice

This guideline can be translated into communication in many ways by supporting and advocating for communication that is progressive, non-stereotypical and respectful of all cultures. For example:

  • A physically active grandmother teaching both her granddaughters and grandsons to play soccer as well as to bake traditional bread
  • A boy or girl bullying others but learning from a parent that it is better to become a leader who is admired by friends and community
  • An adolescent boy learning the true meaning of the word “man” by seeing a gentle and caring uncle share his meagre possessions to help someone from another ethnic group after an emergency
  • A father who is blind caring for his infant daughter in the same loving, capable way as a non-disabled father


 Guideline 4A Guideline 4B   Guideline 4C  Guideline 4D



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