Our children are the ones who hold the power to a more harmonious future, and we are the ones with the responsibility of teaching them. As a mom to a three year old, I am aware my son will grow up in a complicated, not always kind world. It’s incredibly important to me to help him build a foundation of morals, values and beliefs from which to navigate it. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and while such a huge topic can feel intimidating even to those of us who have done plenty of our own work, raising inclusive, aware children is worth venturing outside our comfort zones.
Here are a few tips to help with this crucial lesson in their lives, and set your kids to grow into extraordinary people:
1. Begin with compassion.
Start early enough, and you’ll raise children who have a keen awareness for when others may need an ally. Teach them to be mindful of kids in their school who are new or may not have many friends and remind them that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. Challenge them to reach out to others who may need a friend. Learning that kindness is universal early on teaches them to treat everyone with respect regardless of their appearance or other factors.
2. Broaden their (and your) circle.
Children who experience diversity early on are much more likely to be accepting, as diversity is just their norm. You can help your child experience a wider variety of people by encouraging activities outside of school, such as sports, clubs, or any group activity that is not in your normal bubble. Not only will having a wide net expand their experiences with people from all walks of life, but it will also teach them the valuable skill of getting along with almost everyone. A fun project: get a penpal from somewhere else in the world, and trade stories, or check out Postcrossing, which allows you to trade postcards from people around the world.
3. Fill your library with diverse books and authors.
Sometimes as parents, we can’t always find the right words to say, and that’s more than okay (we can’t be experts at everything!). When you don’t have the answers, turn to someone who does. Reading books about diversity along with a collection of books by authors from all backgrounds will help give your child a huge sense of perspective even early on. You can even make it a fun weekly field trip to the library, as librarians will have great recommendations on a wide range of books.
4. Talk about differences as early and as often as you can.
No matter how small your kids are, they are listening to you, and it’s getting through. Don’t just point out differences, talk through them (and again, refer to tip #3 if you need a little extra assistance). Explain to them that although there may be surface differences, there are also plenty of commonalities. Discussing similarities creates empathy and a sense of unification in the world. Remember, how you set the tone discussing these matters is what could prevent future stereotyping.
5. Be their role model.
You probably already know how your kids will mimic what you do – so make sure you are practicing what you preach! Prejudices are a learned behavior, so emulate the good that you wish to see in your kids. Examine your own beliefs and behaviors and make sure that you’re living values you’d like your child to share. With more adults expressing kindness and compassion, and our children following suit, we can all make the world a more inclusive place.
It takes a village!
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