We humans are a social bunch, which has made this Covid-19 crisis even more difficult to work through. When we think of how best to raise inclusive kids, we surely are not talking about a time when hugs are discouraged, and “social distancing” is the norm.
But our kids learn from us, and the kindest thing we can teach them is the value of kindness, especially to those who might be “different.” Our country and the entire world will be dealing with the repercussions of this pandemic for a while. Take this time to encourage good behavior towards others in your kids.
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What makes a child “different”?
What makes a child stand out (in the negative sense) varies depending on the community. However, the usual culprits are that a child looks different, comes from an unfamiliar background, or has some form of disability. In a society with pre-set ideas as to what is “right,” the different kid is “wrong.”
We’ve all heard of social prejudices when groups are excluded because of their race, religion, country of origin, or some other category. It’s been happening for years and isn’t about to stop any time soon. So the best thing we can do to raise inclusive kids is not to teach them about these social prejudices.
What about schools?
Schools do a fabulous job of educating our children, but we are, and always have been, our children’s first teachers. There are other kids at school, some of whom will have different needs, and our kids have to learn to get along with them. If we teach our kids to treat others with kindness and empathy, this will help the “different” ones from feeling excluded.
Types of bullying
Studies have confirmed what kids probably already know, that there are three groups involved: the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. Sometimes the bullying is direct (violence, abuse), but more often it’s subtle, and exclusion is one of the chief tools used. If you’re one of those kids who are left out of popular events, or the parent of one, you know how tough it can be.
We tend to think of bullying as being physical, when the perpetrator injures or maims the victim. But physical violence is only part of bullying. Cruel names, nasty comments, and egging on others to do the same can be just as damaging.
The stats about cyberbullying are disturbing, with more than a third of young people experiencing or taking part in abuse online. Long-term, the effects of bullying on our young people include poor attendance at school and a drop in academic success. Worse is the increased likelihood of self-harm (including suicide) and long-term drug and alcohol problems.
Make no mistake about it – leaving kids out is a form of bullying. If everyone, bar one, child is invited to a special event, how is that kid expected to feel? Expect that kid to feel unhappy, lonely, shunned, confused, and not good enough.
But it’s not excluding if it’s done for the right reasons, right?
What are the right reasons exactly? Does Kenny not have the same monetary resources as you do; therefore, it’s not fair to invite him to your son’s birthday party? How about having a less extravagant birthday party, and stress the importance of mixing with friends, rather than presents?
You might hear, “But there’s no point in inviting the different kid!”
Sure, your kid may say that there’s no point in inviting little Davy to a birthday party because everyone knows that Davy is uncomfortable in social situations. But that’s not your call to make – that’s Davy’s and Davy’s parent or caregiver.
What if my child is the one doing the bullying?
Not my kid, my kid is great. She can’t help it if she doesn’t like young Sarah, and I’m not going to force her to. No, but you can encourage your kid not to be mean to young Sarah, and to speak up if others are being mean to her.
Don’t underestimate your children’s capacity for empathy.
Young kids are more accepting of differences, so the best way to encourage inclusiveness is to expose younger children to “different” kids. It’s even likely that if the children are young enough, they won’t notice what makes the new kid stand out. It’s us, our kids’ parents, who are more likely to notice that little Johnny can’t talk properly, or little Kate doesn’t wear new clothes every day.
The best thing you can teach your kids is to be kind to other kids, no matter what those kids’ circumstances are. If your child bullies now, they are more likely to have antisocial issues as an adult. Stopping our kids from being nasty to others is just as important as stopping other kids from being nasty to ours.
Are there practical measures I can take now?
If your child is being harmed, physically or mentally, make sure you get the full story. If you can, talk to the perpetrator’s parents and see if, between you all, you can get a resolution. It may be a misunderstanding, but don’t count on it, so keep the lines of communication wide open.
Don’t make assumptions
It’s easy to stereotype children based on preconceived ideas. Before you assume that Jessica can’t come to the party because she has different beliefs, find out whether this is the case. If you think Tommy won’t enjoy the activities at your kid’s birthday party, ask if there are other activities he might enjoy.
Encourage social mixing in a cost-friendly situation
Twin Cities Kids Club makes sure that all members of the family can benefit from the services and discounts offered. Tell us what your kids and their guests are looking for (especially those with special needs), and we’ll find a fun, safe activity that everyone can enjoy. We’ve got some great ideas for virtual tours that don’t have to be restricted to pandemic times either!
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