How to Teach Children Inclusion
You probably don’t need convincing that it’s important for your children to learn to be inclusive. Both historical and current events have shown how critical inclusion is in creating happy and healthy classrooms, homes, and workplaces. Still, grown adults sometimes say and do hurtful things that exclude others because of differences in beliefs, status, or even appearance.
It’s no surprise that exclusive behaviors usually stem from patterns and beliefs that somehow go unchallenged and unchanged from childhood.
People always say that children are sponges, soaking up what they see, hear, and feel—and it’s true. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure what our kids see, hear, and feel is accurate, positive, and uplifting. We need to do our best to help our kids learn and believe in inclusion.
So how do we teach our children the powerful principle of inclusion? How do we teach them to reject all beliefs and behaviors that marginalize or exclude others? Here are a few ideas.
Our children are growing up in a vast and diverse world. And while this has always been true, our children’s experience is unique because of the social and technological connectedness of the world.
It is more likely than ever that the people our children interact with—whether in their classroom, workplace, or social circle—have different beliefs, backgrounds, and cultures than their own.
As parents, we have a responsibility to teach our children how to live in this global space. We need to teach them not only to include, and also to love and value people who are different from them. One simple and powerful way that we can do this is by exposing our children to differences early on.
Resist the urge to cocoon your children by constantly surrounding them with people who are just like them. Sometimes this happens inadvertently, so be deliberate in seeking out ways to expose your children to different places, cultures, and people.
Travel is an obvious and incredible way to provide exposure. If you have the opportunity to travel with your kids, choose places that offer new experiences. Go to a different country or even simply a different town. When you travel, encourage your children to go out of their comfort zones—experiment with local food, learn a little of the language, and above all else, interact with local people.
When travel isn’t an option, seek more unique ways to expose your children to different people and places. Try cooking international foods together and watch movies and read books that portray other countries and cultures.
Each book in the EQ Explorers series features a child from a different part of the world—our stories offer a simple way to help your child gain exposure.
Show your children that the beauty of the world lies in its differences. Teach them that these differences are to be respected and celebrated, not ignored or avoided. If children are to overcome bias, judgement, and fear when it comes to different people and beliefs, they must have some understanding of these differences.
Expose your children to the vastness of the world early on, they won’t hesitate to embrace it in the future.
You can’t be with your children all the time, and you are not always aware of the things they are exposed to through media or peers. Easy access to the internet means that your children are likely to see and hear beliefs and perspectives that are different from what they’ve experienced at home. They’ll witness people who include and people who exclude.
To help your children come to the right conclusions—especially about inclusion—help them filter their experiences by having frequent conversations.
Make your home a safe environment and be trustworthy and open so that your children feel they can talk openly with you. What if they are being bullied at school for their beliefs? What if they are the ones doing the bullying? Be someone your children can confide in; your ability to direct and guide them will be so much greater.
It’s okay to be passionate about hot topics, but keep the conversations emotionally intelligent.
Avoid unmanaged emotions and heated discussions and be sure to validate the other side. Remember—you want to teach your children how to think critically for themselves, not to thoughtlessly adopt your beliefs.
This is the most powerful way to teach your children the principle of inclusion, yet also the most difficult. This requires you to dig deep into your own beliefs and behaviors. What are your biases? Your prejudices? Who and what do you quickly judge? What stereotypes do you play into? These are hard questions to ask and even harder patterns to change.
But if you commit to rejecting excluding behaviors and adopting a pattern of inclusion, your children are likely to follow.
Keep in mind that whatever skills or abilities your child doesn’t learn from you, they will learn from someone else. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, it just means you have to be willing and aware.
Be aware of the skills you want your child to develop and be willing to demonstrate them (even if imperfectly) yourself.
Modeling behavior comes with a lot of pressure, but it’s nevertheless true that your child is observing you. Don’t demand perfection from yourself—just be humble and keep trying. If your children see you striving to include all people, they will be motivated to do the same.
Let your kids be themselves, even if that looks different from you or their peers. If you encourage music, but they gravitate to sports, celebrate their passion. Give them opportunities to pursue their interests and play to their strengths.
Learn to be comfortable letting your child be themselves and truly celebrate their individuality.
Be careful to avoid comparing your child to anyone or express wishes that they would behave more like someone else. In order to become well-rounded individuals, children certainly need your guidance and direction, but in some regards you don’t have to call the shots.
Teaching your children to learn and believe in inclusion is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Think of it as a gift of emotional intelligence that you can give your child. It will help them become an emotionally intelligent adult who can contribute to their community and encourage the world to move toward greater inclusion and love.