I had a reocurring dream last night that sneaks up on me every time I am insecure about belonging to a group. I know exactly where this stems from since I was recently excluded from a group that I wanted to join. Nothing major by any measure, just a group of local women. Nonetheless, those feelings of insecurity from middle school, high school, and college came rushing back.
Instead of throwing myself a pity party and dwelling on the fact that I am not a part of something, I decided to throw my disappointment into a lesson on inclusivity for my children. I started thinking about how it would feel to be excluded from something more monumental than a group of women in my town. I am sharing my thoughts and tips with you in hopes that we raise a world that favors inclusivity over exclusivity, kindness over bullying behavior, and empathy.
This isn’t an easy lesson, and there are many accompanying lessons that go along with inclusivity. Here are a few ways to introduce and reinforce the concept with your children.
Acknowledge and discuss diversity.
To claim that all humans are exactly the same is to deny the very things that make us unique and special. Race, religion, gender, ability and socioeconomic factors are all real things and do not need to be a taboo topic in your household. Parents often shy away from what they are uncomfortable with themselves (birds and the bees, anyone???) so it is our duty to approach these topics in an educated and loving manner.
Let your children know that no topic is off the table in the comfort of their own home. They need a safe place to ask questions, voice concerns and discuss discomfort. Exclusivity is often bred from fear, and fear of the unknown is something that we can help squash.
Here are a few resources that can help parents discuss diversity with their children:
Race Talk: Engaging Young People in Conversations about Race and Racism
Definitions Relates to Bias, Injustice and Bullying
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PH.D.
Teaching Young Children About Race- A Guide for Parents and Teachers
Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves
List of books for children to read that discuss diversity
Set family expectations.
We have family expectations and rules at our home. I expect my children to clear their plates from the table after dinner. If I didn’t make this expectation clear, they most likely wouldn’t do it. If you set the expectation of inclusivity as a family expectation where each person models this behavior and discusses strategies to include others, you are more likely to see the behavior in your children.
Side note: This works for other situations that might be uncomfortable- I often say “Our family doesn’t do that, but others might” when my kid observes something like inappropriate language.
Umm…but sometimes a four letter word escapes my lips in front of the kids and I apologize and admit my mistake.
Practice, practice, practice.
Here is a teeny tiny example of practicing inclusivity. I have a 6-year-old (Bryson) and a 4-year-old (Charlotte). Charlotte hasn’t yet mastered the concept of Uno, so Bryson doesn’t want to let her play and lets her know this quite vehemently. We take a pause (I do this often- I literally say PAUSE! if I see something out of line with my children’s behavior)- I ask Bryson how he thinks he made Charlotte feel by telling her she can’t play. I asked Charlotte how she feels being left out of a family game. I remind Bryson that when he was 4, he had a similar struggle with the rules and I had to be patient and teach him. We lay out a few options together- we can either change the rules of the game to make it easier to understand, we can teach Charlotte the rules and be patient while she learns, or we can choose a new game that she already knows how to play.
I also talked about the skills and characteristics that Charlotte has that are unique and special. I asked Bryson what Charlotte does really well and what she might be able to teach him.
Have a growth mindset.
A growth mindset, one where all people have the ability to learn, grow and change, is especially important. Bryson loves teaching Charlotte new things, and that feeling of helping others is one that you want your children to experience as much as possible.
A growth mindset teaches children that things can change, and they can BE the change they want to see. They can help another child who struggles with reading, they can question a bully’s actions, they can voice an opinion when something just isn’t right. This helps empower children to make positive changes in the world.
Cheers to creating and fostering an environment of inclusivity in your family, and praising your children for accepting others for who they are!
(And cheers to these adorable photos by Jessie Hearn Photography!)