Social exclusion hurts.
Not everyone experiences it, but everyone notices it. Maybe someone is sitting alone at the lunch table, or perhaps someone is getting bullied for having a disability. Exclusion impacts children on so many levels, emotionally and physically.
That’s why it’s necessary to teach children to be inclusive and accepting of differences. Everyone has something they can offer and deserve to be part of any activity.
What Does It Mean to Be Inclusive?
Before you begin teaching children how to be inclusive, you need to understand what it means to be inclusive. Often, inclusivity seems like a moral obligation or something people should do. Instead, you should want to raise a generation that wants to be inclusive and doesn’t feel like it’s something they have to do.
Inclusion means that all people have the right to do something or be part of a group, regardless of their race, religion, disability, gender or any other category. It’s respecting others for who they are. When people are inclusive, they aren’t divided. It involves recognizing differences, being aware of them and still including others in your life no matter who they are or from where they come.
To children, inclusion can look like:
- Allowing a child in a wheelchair to play basketball with other kids
- Standing up to a school bully for a child who has a mental illness
- Becoming friends with a foreign exchange student
- Playing with a child who has a visual impairment
There are many other forms of inclusivity. Once children understand inclusivity, they will become inclusive and learn the value of letting others join in on an activity. Here’s how we can teach our children to be inclusive.
Model Inclusive Behavior
If you want your child to be inclusive, then you have to model inclusive behavior. Children look up to adults and parents to know what to do in various situations. Children learn from your actions and will mimic your behaviors. They notice how you treat other people.
Ensure your actions are sending the right messages to the children in your life.
Expand your friend group and make friends with people who are different from you. Invite the new neighbor over for a meal. Talk to other parents at your child’s events and school. If you notice someone is alone, talk with them. It’s simple behaviors like this that will send the right message to your child about inclusivity.
Explain That Everyone Is Different
When talking about inclusivity, explain to your child that everyone is different. It’s okay to point out differences in people. The last thing you should do is ignore differences. When you do that, your children will be more likely to exclude others.
It’s just as important to emphasize similarities between your child and another person. Although people look different or have different abilities, everyone shares the experience of being human. Once your child notices differences, they can better accept them.
You can encourage them to see differences by exposing them to diverse people and experiences, especially if you live in a community where many people look the same or come from the same background.
Cast a Wide Net of Friends
Sometimes, kids will flock to one group of friends and won’t expand that group or make new friends throughout their childhood and teenage years. While it’s normal for kids to do this, their friend net isn’t cast very wide. Kids who have a diverse set of friendships from various activities are more likely to accept others.
Encourage your children to make new friends when they involve themselves in various activities.
Perhaps they’re involved in a sport, music group, church and hang out with neighborhood kids — this helps them develop healthier friendships and diverse ones. You can help your child meet new friends by meeting new people in your community, too.
Build Empathy Skills
Empathy is one of those skills that is important for inclusivity. It’s the ability to notice how others feel and imagine how it might be to be them, along with actually caring for that person and offering compassion.
People come from all walks of life, and it can be hard to understand what others are going through.
When your child is empathetic, they can better accept others and be inclusive with them. There are ways to teach your child empathy, like being empathetic with them, serving the community and helping your child manage their own feelings.
Read Children’s Books About Inclusivity
Children’s books are an excellent source to teach children about complex topics.
It can be tricky to find the right words to say when speaking about diversity and inclusivity — that’s where books come into play. Many children’s books about inclusivity are available that you can purchase and read to your child.
Literature expands insight into differences in race, abilities and culture. Books use stories and illustrations to drive home a point of conversation. They can help with perspective and empathy and give children ideas on how they might be able to be inclusive in their own lives.
Openly Discuss Inclusivity
Finally, be open with your children about inclusivity.
Be there to answer questions they may have, and answer them openly and honestly with age-appropriate words. In turn, you can ask them why they would like to know more about another person’s differences or what made them think of the question.
Empower your children to become friends with others who are different from them. Often, those with disabilities, those from another culture or those of a different race are also open to discussing differences with others, so encourage your child to ask them meaningful questions about their lives.
Building an Inclusive Generation
The ultimate goal is to raise an inclusive generation. When more people can acknowledge and accept differences, they can work together to make the world a better place.