Teaching Your Child the Importance of Including Others
Inclusivity, or the practice of including people who might otherwise be excluded from a group of people for one reason or another, can be a difficult subject to explain to toddlers. However, it is likely that by the time a child has set foot in a learning environment with other children, they have been exposed to different socioeconomic, racial, or religious backgrounds, and various levels of mental or physical abilities. This is great news! The more you can encourage your child to engage with others who are not like them in one way or another, the more likely your child is to become a compassionate, empathetic, and inclusive person. Inclusivity is a practice we as parents can all strive to teach our children, and it can prove to make your child an even kinder human being.
Inclusivity Teaches Empathy
Has your child come to you about being bullied, or witnessing bullying at school? Were they being bullied for something that made them different from most other children? Exclusivity is just another form of bullying. You can create an open discussion with your child about what it felt like to be bullied, or how your child thinks the child being bullied must have felt. You can enlighten them on what inclusivity is all about, and explain that when someone is left out for being different, that is not O.K. Empower your child to know that they can be the one child to make a difference in another child’s life at school, on their sports team, or in their neighborhood!
Discussing What Makes Others Different
So you are in the grocery store, or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, and your child asks a question about why someone near you looks the way they do a little too loudly. Yes, this can be a little embarrassing, but the motivation for these questions is pure and good. Encouraging curiosity about different races, cultures, and physical and mental abilities can help your child to develop into an inclusive person. It is best not to brush off these questions, or ignore the differences in the world around you if your child wants to know more about them. Differences should not be ignored, but we should instead teach children to celebrate them! After all, each person is different in their own way, and can contribute something to the world that no one else can.
There are a lot of ways that you can encourage your child to celebrate the differences among people that make them special. Is there a child at school who is a little awkward and a bit of a social outcast, but is passionate about science and significantly excels in school? Maybe that child will go on to become a doctor or scientist and help people someday. Help your child to see the potential in people, because every person has value and a purpose! Everyone is worthy of inclusivity, friends, and love.
Books are also a prime opportunity to educate your child about inclusivity. The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman is a wonderful book which illustrates that families come in all different forms: One mom and one dad, two moms, two dads, grandparents as guardians, single parents, one child, many children, adopted children, multiethnic families, religious families, etc. No matter what the family looks like, they are all worthy of celebration! Another great way for your child to learn about people who are different from them is to travel to other cultures themselves. But of course, a more realistic option would be to go to your local library and check out books about different countries and cultures. It could even be a fun opportunity to cook a new cuisine together from a culture your child reads about.
While it is a positive thing to openly discuss what makes people unique together, it is important to acknowledge similarities as well. Even though you may look different from someone else, do you both have a heart capable of loving others? Check. Do you have the ability to smile to brighten someone else’s day? Check. Two ears to listen to someone else’s problems, and a brain to understand all human beings deserve to belong? Check and check! No matter our differences on the inside and outside, we are all human beings who deserve inclusivity and to be treated with kindness.
Being a Role Model
There is no better way to teach inclusivity than to practice what you preach! If your child invites a child who is usually excluded to have a playdate at your home, why not invite the child’s guardian(s) too? Perhaps the child has two mommies, and you genuinely get along with them both. Or, the child uses a wheelchair, and needs help from his or her parents sometimes to get around. Showing your child that you also genuinely want to interact with people who have different life experiences than you can help encourage your child to be on the lookout for other people who could use more inclusivity in their life.
Furthermore, you could go the extra step and find organizations to volunteer with that allow your child to actively help communities they would otherwise not be involved in. Volunteering at a local women’s shelter where families rely on them for a place to live can provide insight into ways children live differently than they do. Another opportunity for inclusivity could be lending a hand at a local Special Olympics event. Once you seek out ways to volunteer your time to organizations that celebrate inclusivity, the possibilities are endless!
Another valuable way to be a positive role model for your child is to examine what diversity biases you subconsciously carry with you. This can be very unique to every individual, and is work that only you can really do to change negative thought patterns or personal biases you may have. Also, be sure to watch out for the language you teach to your children. For example, those who have differences in mental abilities may be sensitive to the way it is described, with “on the autism spectrum” being the preferred phrasing of words.
While discussing inclusivity is important, here are some other fun ways for your child to put their practice of inclusivity in action!
- Host a birthday party, end of the school year party, or other event, and invite everyone in their class, regardless of their immediate friend group
- Help your child cast a wide net of diverse friends through various extracurricular activities: Sports, dramatic arts, chess, multicultural cooking classes, etc.
- Gift a cousin or peer with a book about diversity and inclusivity for their birthday or holiday present
- Watch videos or documentaries about world-class athletes with physical disabilities, other countries and cultures, or inclusivity in general, and discuss what they learned as a family
- Make a skit with their friends about a time when they stopped bullying and perform it for parents or other children