Inclusion is defined as the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. This means that children have a sense of belonging whether with their peers, family, school, or the larger community. Unfortunately, because of how children look, sound, or characteristics of an exceptionality, not all children experience the feeling of being included. Teaching your child to be more inclusive can help other children feel that.

Parents are a child’s first teachers and can mold a child and encourage certain behaviors and beliefs that can impact how that child interacts with others. Modeling behaviors that support an inclusive belief system teaches children to be inclusive. It does not have to be big things. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my child play with children who look or act like him/her a majority of the time?
  • Do I use derogatory labels about other children, even subtle language such as “crazy” or “bad”?
  • Do I stare at a child who looks or behaves differently?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” your child may be learning to exclude people. Parents can learn respectful language to describe a child’s condition. For instance, instead of saying the “crazy child,” you could say the child may have an exceptionality.

Another way to teach children about inclusion is to point out to your child the similarities between them and other children. For instance, a parent could point out that a child in a wheelchair seems to like apples just like their child. It is also important to recognize the uniqueness of each person without using exclusion language. Using the previous example, you may point out that a child in a wheelchair needs his/her wheelchair to move around. It is just a different way to get to the same place. Also, reading books about inclusion with children can help them to understand how to see the similarities and uniqueness in each person.

Finally, parents can find teachable moments in everyday interactions. If your child asks a question about another person’s exceptionality or uniqueness, give them a truthful answer. It is ok if you don’t know. Learn about exceptionalities and how to support someone together by attending events that celebrate exceptionalities. Parents can also recognize holidays that bring awareness such as Developmental Disabilities Month in March.

Each person is different, and that is not a bad thing. Each person’s uniqueness can be a learning opportunity and an enriching experience that can have a lifelong impact on a child. Teaching children to be more inclusive can increase a child’s ability to be empathetic and kind to everyone. The golden rule is to treat others as you would want to be treated, but the platinum rule is to treat others as they would like to be treated. So, take the opportunity to learn about exceptionalities and how people would like to be treated.

 

Monet Somerville is a Parent Educator at The Parenting Center. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Developmental Psychology with a Concentration in Child and Adolescent Development. She is also a licensed Trust Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.

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