By: Rebecca Wilson Macsovits, Author of Guion The Lion
We all want our kids to be and feel included, right? Whether purposefully or unintentionally excluded, being unseen, uninvited and unnoticed, and worst of all, judged, is not fun for any child.
Inclusion became especially important to me in raising my oldest son, Guion, who happens to have Down syndrome. Because of the many misconceptions that often surround Down syndrome, kids often look at Guion differently. And sadly sometimes, Guion is even referenced with the cruel R-word. These quick judgements are not only hurtful, but often lead to Guion being excluded.
Acceptance is a strong need of all kids (and adults). We thrive and flourish through connection and relationship with others, while isolation and exclusion can negatively impact everything from emotional well-being to academic success. For some kids, making friends and including others comes naturally. But for others, it’s not so easy.
It’s hurtful to see kids being left out, but it’s just as saddening to see kids doing the excluding. How can we teach kids to be inclusive of others? Here are a few tips and ideas.
Time to look in the mirror. Kids are always watching and listening, and they learn best from observing the role models around them. Are you modeling inclusivity? Examine your own behaviors and language to ensure that you’re promoting inclusion in your day-to-day life.
Empowerment is all about celebrating kids for who they are and can become. Be their biggest cheerleaders, facilitate their interests and goals, push them out of their comfort zone, and most of all, be their safe place to land. Kids who are comfortable and confident in their own skin are more likely to be understanding and empathetic toward others–celebrate each other’s differences rather than make fun of them.
While judging is unfortunately a natural instinct, kids are also born with unbridled curiosity. It’s our job to foster, encourage and inspire this natural-born curiosity by demonstrating curiosity, answering their questions thoroughly, asking them open-ended questions, exploring new places, and allowing them to learn through trial and error. Being curious about others leads to better understanding of their lives, experiences and perspectives – even if they are different from our own.
As mentioned in the above point, kids are naturally curious about the world around them. They are bound to ask questions when they encounter someone who is or appears to be different from them–be prepared! It’s okay that they notice when a peer looks, talks or walks differently than they do, BUT be ready to explain that their difference does not make them “weird” or any less deserving of kindness and respect.
Take field trips! Whether it’s a new park, museum, area of town or an entirely new city, take your kids to new places that remove them from their comfort zone. Unfamiliar places nurture their curiosity while exposing them to diverse people and places, which gives you plenty of opportunities to talk about diversity with them.
Encouraging inclusive play can be as simple as encouraging your kids to invite new friends to a playdate, making sure all children are included in games at the playground, and playing games kids of all abilities can enjoy. While your kids play, point out how they’re being inclusive and kind, for example, “That was kind of you to include Katie on your team.” Visit our Let’s Play page for inclusive game and activity ideas!
Children’s books are powerful tools for teaching inclusivity. Many books, including Guion The Lion, feature storylines that promote diversity and celebrate differences, which gives you another opportunity to start a conversation about diversity or answer your child’s questions. Check out our round up of children’s books that celebrate differences and promote inclusion here.
Guion The Lion is all about presenting messages of compassion, curiosity and adventure before children begin making their own judgments and assumptions. Through the children’s book, parenting/teaching resources, fun activities and more, kids can learn how appreciating differences, practicing inclusion and embracing new ideas leads to unimaginable fun.