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Communicating with children

Guideline 4B

Be inclusive: Celebrate and value all types of diversity


Children are aware of differences at a very early age. Some of this comes from real-life experiences in their families and communities, and some comes from their exposure to media in its many forms. If someone is missing from our communication and media, it often implies their absence from social consciousness; if someone is portrayed negatively or solely as a stereotype, it sends a message as well.

Complementary ways in which inclusion can be achieved are explicit (direct) and implicit (indirect) images and messages. It is important to explicitly provide practical information, answer questions honestly and accurately, address and include special stories about differences. It is equally important to implicitly include, as a matter of fact, a diverse world without any mention of difference.

Often, children who view positive and inclusive communication have an easier time discussing sensitive topics such as gender, disability, ethnicity and race. They are also more likely to be interested in cultivating relationships with others and respecting them as equals. Just as one should strive to have a fifty-fifty gender balance in all communication, a good “rule of thumb” for implicit inclusion is at least 10 per cent. For example, to ensure fair representation on the topic of disability, ensure that at least 1 out of every 10 children and adults living with a disability, particularly the disabilities common to that particular society, is portrayed.

Positive Example: Be inclusive by celebrating and valuing all types of diversity


Media Initiatives for Children (Peace Initiatives Institute, USA) is a series of television public service announcements and other media about accepting and appreciating differences, “to create greater understanding and less strife among conflicted societies.” Its first project was based in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and proved successful by combining short television cartoons and other mass media, matched with curricula to help preschool children accept and respect others. Various forms of inclusion and diversity presented in the cartoons include: children who are Catholic and Protestant, children from different ethnic groups and a child who is disabled. Impact evaluation on this project showed that children exposed to the cartoons and classroom intervention made positive changes in recognizing differences and showing a willingness to play with all children. It also indicated that children who participated were more likely to recognize exclusion, to know how an excluded child feels, and were more willing to play with a previously excluded child (3).

 Turning Theory into Practice

This guideline can be translated into communication in many ways to demonstrate explicit and implicit inclusion, using formal and informal media, featuring girls and boys, able and disabled, of various economic levels, of differing national groups and ethnicities, living in homes and on the streets – but all of them equally engaged in various learning activities. For example:

  • Implicit – children with amputated limbs coping with life in conflict/post-conflict situations with no mention of their disability; an H1N1 prevention campaign that includes boys and girls of varying abilities and social groups; introducing a girl who loves school, her friends and community, and coincidentally happens to be deaf
  • Explicit – a competitive quiz with different children shouting out correct answers while a narrator explains that, “All children have the potential to do well if they are given a chance and work hard,” and concluding with a minority group child winning; a boy living with AIDS sitting with younger children, answering questions about his disease, life and lessons learned, and giving them advice


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



3 Connolly, P., Fitzpatrick, S., Gallagher, T., & Harris, P. (2006). Addressing diversity and inclusion in the early years in conflict-affected societies: a case study of the Media Initiative for Children—Northern Ireland. International Journal of Early Years Education, 14(3), 263–278; Connolly, P. (2009) Developing Programmes to Promote Ethnic Diversity in Early Childhood: Lessons from Northern Ireland. Working Paper No. 52. The Hague, The Netherlands: Bernard van Leer Foundation. Return to text




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