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Teaching Our Children to Look Beyond Duality

Last week, a friend shared an experience with her toddler in a grocery store, and lamented that the terrible two’s were starting early. Other moms commiserated, and then debated whether age three was harder yet. I opinioned that every age has its struggles, one not being any harder than the previous, and as parents we’re all just trying to navigate it as best we can. Still, each age has it’s own challenges for sure, influenced by the development of a child’s brain and understanding of the world around him.

Preschoolers tend to see the world in black and white. There is no grey. Things either are or they are not. They are good or bad. The cup is full or empty. As they grow into adolescence, children start questioning the grey. Maybe what they once believed was, simply is not? It’s a lot to work through for a child and even more so for a parent to navigate with them.

Consider that, in 2017, we’re still living in a world of duality. As Betty-Ann Heggie explains in her blog post Finding Sameness Instead of Separation, everything in our lives is compared and labelled. We love categorization (ask any Pinterest user!) and it unfortunately encourages the belief that if one side is right, the other is wrong. It’s when we learn to blend two ideas, perceptions or expectations that we can actually grow.

A great example Betty-Ann shares is the emotions in Disney’s hit Inside Out. Riley learns that happiness and sadness don’t have to occupy her brain and take it over – she can exist with them both and work with them both to grow. Of course, anger and fear play a role in that too! As a parent I loved how this movie helped open discussion on emotion and feelings with my kids on a deeper level – we could often refer back to Riley when dealing with some of the same feelings she was having in the movie.

As adults, asking your coworker or boss to take a second and consider a Disney movie’s lessons is probably not the right approach, but it’s worth looking at how we can encourage more sameness, and less separation in the workplace and at home. Our biggest duality, Betty-Ann explains, is gender. From birth we seem to fit into a category of pink or blue and the expectations that come as a result.

Because we see ourselves as one or the other, we use only half of the actions and options available to us. We become out of balance and the many virtues of being masculine or feminine get dialed up to the extreme and evolve into vices. We are witnessing this on the world stage currently and a rethink is necessary.  – Betty Ann Heggie

What if, she says, we embrace the attributes of the opposite gender within ourselves? Wouldn’t it then be easier to navigate discussions and understanding if we saw the opposite of us as more of the same? I like this a lot! Women don’t have to be quiet and passive, men don’t have to be the loudest voice in the room. If we meet in the middle, wouldn’t the road ahead be easier to walk?

While we’re raising our children, it’s interesting (and somewhat worrisome) that we’re seeing words and actions from grown adults who don’t seem to have moved past that preschool perception of the world being black or white. I wish we could put them in time out to think long and hard about what they did, don’t you?

Let’s talk about working through the either/or and the black/white. Share a time in the comments below when you helped your child – or someone in your life – see that there was a middle ground. It’s a lot to learn for little ones, and admittedly we’re still learning as we grow too! Betty-Ann Heggie has generously shared a $100 PayPal to foster the discussion – we encourage you to use the prize to better yourself and those around you! Perhaps a dinner date with a mentor, or a day out with your child to bond. I love this prize!


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  • It took some time, but when I first got with my now husband, he came from a rural part of Alberta and was raised by folks who did not believe in anything other than straight and heterosexual love. Over time, I was able to convince hubby that gay, transgender, and anyone else in the universe have the right to live happy and healthy lives without being constantly stared at, criticized, or treated differently. I am proud to say that I have brought him into the light and he completely understands and sympathizes with those in our society who might be different on the inside, but completely the same outside.

  • Having a granddaughter that is a natural tomboy, I work with her to let her know that it is okay that she does not want to get involved in the princess / pink craze that those all around her seem to be destined to.

  • My three year old son was told at daycare by the other kids that he shouldn’t take the pink “girl” bowl. We talked through this together but it’s crazy how early this starts!

  • I love your closing sentiment: While we’re raising our children, it’s interesting (and somewhat worrisome) that we’re seeing words and actions from grown adults who don’t seem to have moved past that preschool perception of the world being black or white. I wish we could put them in time out to think long and hard about what they did, don’t you?

  • It’s all the time that I am trying to get others to see that there is a middle ground. And it is interesting that you mention gender in the above article . After being around my family and relatives all these years, I see how my mother is a lot like her father and my father is like a lot his mother.

  • It is fun to have light conversations with kids regarding social concepts – what would happen if a girl and a girl wanted to dance together? to kiss? to marry? What if they wanted to kiss on the lips but others said it was bad? Why would they say it is bad? It is wonderful to see them think ourside of the box (or to discover that they are not in the box!) The point is to learn/teach empathy and that there are different ways of seeing or being even if that is not what you want for yourself.

  • I remember my daughter had so many different friends in Middle School when several schools were incorporated in to one. It wasn’t always easy trying to help her adjust to all the differences and yet keep her own identity. After a few months she did find a middle ground.

  • I grew up having gay friends and learn that their was no black or white in my teenagers year and though my children at a young age that everything goes.

  • I once helped a male co worker get over his reluctance to accept a female leader. I told him it was about actions not gender. It all worked out as she happened to be a great leader.

  • Our son is still young enough that he takes all suggestions as meaning he’s wrong. We’re working on this a lot – just because a class-mate wants to add a yellow piece to the building doesn’t mean his plans are wrong, just that they have to incorporate others.

  • It seems I’m always trying to get my kids to see the middle ground as when they fight they both feel they are right. I have to explain to them that although they both have points that are one side they both have points on the other side as well. I have to show them that neither of them is right or wrong…there is a middle ground.

  • helped someone have a safe and loving place to stay while he gets a few things worked out. So far, things are going great.. Giving him the time to go at his own pace.

  • I can’t think of a specific incident with Miss R, but I know we’ve been fortunate at school to have a couple special programs to help understand empathy and walking a mile in the other person’s shoes. I find the programs like Roots of Empathy (Kindergarten) and Second Step (Grade 4) have really helped her to understand that not everything is black and white but rather varying shades of gray.

  • When my child was diagnosed with autism, he definitely fit into that grey category that was difficult for older generations (most specifically my grandfather’s) to understand. My son wasn’t fitting into that ‘either/or’ mold they had been taught.. that was all they ever knew. Even my parents who were a generation later had troubles grasping the concept. Through talking with therapists, giving them reading materials, & helping to bridge that gap, they now have a much better understanding & empathy when it comes to autism.

  • I don’t really have a specific example but I try to model to my daughter that everyone is different and may not see eye to eye it’s ok amd we should embrace the differences in others and maybe try to learn something from them

  • Last week, my girls were fighting over who of the two is the bossiest sister. I spoke to both of them and suggested to them that they should try to see the other’s opinion and viewpoint. In doing so, they can start treating each other with kindness and respect instead of trying to boss each other.

  • I don’t have a specific example, but this applies to everything. We all need to respect others simply because they are people. This means kindness and empathy. It doesn’t mean that everyone is always right. That’s an impossibility. But still being kind.

  • I love this message! My partner and I strive to help each other see the gray or silver lining when we are going through times of stress.

  • I have a brother that is gay and is married to a hermaphodite (sp) , when my kids were just super young they were taught that this was part of life and it was auntie and uncle, they learned respect as well;

  • watching my son grow up things were very different from when I grew up, I was raised on a farm having both parents,he was raised in the city and me being a single mom you get a whole new outlook on things, his school was a mandarine school so there were many different races attending the school and he grew to love all his class mates no matter what color/race they were and in his middle school years he struggled as at the age of 10 he first met his father, who was a different race than I was this was something new for him to adjust to, as having friends of different races he learned to accept what he was and embraced it

  • The only thing I can think of was when I discussed school rumors with my little cousins. I told them there’s a side to every story. Sometimes just because someone says something about another person, doesn’t always mean it’s true.

  • I always try to teach my kids to just listen to what someone else says, even if it’s something that you don’t agree with. There are always two sides. Two people can look a the same thing and yet have different perceptions.

  • I have helped others around me see that there is a middle ground by encouraging others to be empathetic and to try and place themselves in someone else’s shoes. It’s so easy to judge people but until we actually walk in their shoes, we have no idea what it is like for them. For example, I have ongoing chronic health issues. From the outside I look normal and you wouldn’t know I had problems. Having an inner ear issue affects every aspect of my life and I must pace myself. By educating others around me, I think it has helped them to get to that middle ground of understanding. I hope!

  • I think it would be with my hubby and his work. He works with a lot of teenagers and has trouble dealing with the “grey” area that they don’t have the same work ethic and experience that he does. He gets so frustrated and I am forever reasoning with him that things don’t have to be black, white or his way. That there is a meet in the middle line that he can try to reach when it comes to his expectations.

  • WOW what a great article. On a daily basis I go through teaching my kids and showing by example on how to see middle ground. I especially agree and it’s so evident in my kids that daughters are like their fathers and sons like their moms

  • I know someone who’s daughter is friends with someone gay in school and she knows that that is ok. As long as they’re happy.

  • I’ve talked with my niece about finding a middle ground with her peers that she thinks have nothing in common with her. We discuss what things they might have in common, even if on the surface she thinks they wouldn’t get along based on gender, age, ability, etc.

  • I really cannot think of a specific time; but I know that I have to deal with finding middle ground often at my job. I work with people in hospital – they often do not want to get up moving as they feel ill and I am trying to get them moving for therapy.. It’s finding a balance for sure for their own benefit

  • My oldest daughter, who’s now in kindergarten, has always been completely black and white on every issue. It’s taken awhile, but she’ll now at least acknowledge the possibility that someone COULD like something she doesn’t. I think it took her baby sister gobbling down every single blueberry she refused to eat for weeks on end for her to accept that other people ACTUALLY liked them.

  • We were at a friend’s birthday party and the kids got to vote on a movie they wanted to see. There were more girls in the party so my daughter was the first to demand that they watch a girly movie like Barbie – even though most of the boys actually wanted to see a dinosaur movie. I had to pull her aside and teach her value others’ opinion and that there is a middle ground. We ended up scratching the voting idea and chose a movie that everyone liked.

  • I think it is hard to get the kids to see the middle ground when they are young and their reasoning skills are still developing. I have had conversations with my son regarding friendships and playing house with his classmates. Sometimes you may not want to play what other kids are playing, but if you play with them now, they will play what you want later.

  • For me it’s toys and colours. Who says boys can’t wear pink or play with Barbies. I come from an old fashioned family and I have told them there isn’t anything wrong with a child playing with these things, male or female. Tired of them telling my son, you can’t do that, you’re a boy. If my son likes pink, he will like pink!

  • I’ve always taught my children to have open minds, right from an early age on but also to respect someone else’s opinions. I know one time when my son & daughter were having a loud argument that I thought would soon end in fisticuffs , as I was on my way to speak to them ,I overheard the statement ” I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this”. There followed a short pause of silence & then ” yes, that’ll have to do, I guess”. They both went back to whatever they were doing before the argument. I was really proud of them then & knew that they had absorbed the lessons well.

  • I remember the time with my cousin who had a son that was showing signs of being on the feminine side early on. He was always teased that he may end up with a gay son and he would always say that it is not so and he wouldn’t accept it should it be the case. When his kid became a teen, he finally said he was gay and my cousin was devastated but eventually came to realization that it was to be and with the support and acceptance from the whole family it was easier.

  • There is a 6 year differences between my one set of of grandkids and sometimes it is a chore to get threw to the older one that his sister is 6 yrs younger and he doesn’t need to correct everything she says. Sometimes it is better to just to let it go.

  • Teaching my kids to see the middle ground was a challenge when many of their friends had terrible opinions (learned from their parents)about race and gender,but after many discussions and daily life they learned that we(all people) are honestly all the same and deserve a fair chance.

  • I hope I offer that now for my 8 year old godson who’s parents are at war. I’m a safe place for him to just be a child. I let him know adult things arn’t his to worry about. I don’t know if I get through but he knows I love him for I tell him. He seems to talk to me comfortably. I’m all about empathy and kindness.

  • I’m the middle child, and have always tried to be the negotiator between family factions. I try to have each faction see the other side, sometimes I made progress, sometimes I got sucker shots. It can make it hard for the parents and other siblings who don’t want to be required to be hating one of their siblings just ’cause.

  • I have helped many friends in tough times to get to middle ground with family ect ! Ive always loved helping others out

  • I have helped my child navigate this either/or way of thinking. We discussed her thought process and assertion that there are bad people and good people in the world. I explained that people that do bad things can also be inherently good people that are making poor choices. It helped her look at people with less of a black and white belief that there are bad guys and good guys, and that the bad guys are and always will be so-called ‘bad guys’. People have freedom of choice and can also learn and grow. In changing they may make different or wiser decisions. It was a big topic and concept to address but I hope I successfully explained it in a easy to grasp way. Keep it simple, I think, when we are teaching our children. KISS 🙂

  • Listening to all points of view and talking things out is so important. For young kids sometimes learning stories help.

  • It can be so hard to help someone see the middle ground. I try with my nieces and I hope they hear a little of what I’m saying. As they grow I think they’ll understand better.

  • The time that I tried to teach my little cousins that there’s no such thing as “girl” jobs and “boy jobs” – the youngest was very upset when his brother told him he couldn’t be a nurse because nurses were girls.

  • I’m the second oldest of eight children, so helped work out disputes with my younger siblings growing up. I also encouraged them to be open minded, understanding and compassionate.

  • I feel like I am always helping my youngest son see they grey area. He has autism paired with anxiety and everything seems to be black and white with him. For example, he was accepted for cadet camp for 3 weeks this summer and he was only thinking about how horrible it would be, how he would be bored, afraid, etc and wanted to turn it down. I told him yes, that MAY happen and it is okay if it does happen but you will also have good times, meet friends, gain experience and it will help with anxiety in the long run. He decided to accept it the camp invitation.

  • The time we were walking along and one of the boys found a $10 bill on the grass. He was going to keep it and not share with his brother. After we talked about how if he shared, both boys could buy something each and both be happy, and that he could be proud of what he did…he said OK and we walked to the store…and they both wasted $5 on candy!!!

  • Way back in the 80s, I got my middle son a “My Buddy” doll. He was 3, and he saw it on the commercials and wanted one. My dad freaked. It was very difficult to explain to my little boy why his grandpa thought boys shouldn’t have a doll.

  • During my separation, my son could only see black and white. I encouraged him to think about others feelings and to always stand up for yourself, but pick you battles. Let the things that are not on the priority list slide.

  • My twin boys are 2 years younger than my oldest son so I help find middle ground every day…or at least I try to!!

  • Using Inside Out to foster discussion of black and white thinking is such a good idea (and one I admit I’ve used, too!). Being creative when talking about emotions is important.

  • We have taught our kids that they should respect everyone, even though they might not necessarily agree with them.

  • My son has a teacher this year who is 77 years old and very set in his ways. When they learned about politics, he was teaching them that his views are right and others are wrong. He actually referred to some prime ministers as heroes and others as dummies! We had to reiterate to our son that every person has different opinions and deserves to be heard. He’s been taught that his whole life but it was shocking to have a teacher be so openly biased.


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