By BROOKE SKIPPPER, MSW, LCSW
ADVICE FROM YOUTHFIRST
In our Catholic faith, we believe everyone is created in God’s likeness. No mistakes have been made. We all belong. This is embodied throughout the New Testament by Jesus Christ. Jesus was a beacon for those deemed by society as outcasts.
In our day-to-day lives, however, are we embracing this message? Are we teaching our children to view everyone as belonging? Do our parishes, schools and communities welcome and create a safe space for all God’s children?
In order to raise inclusive children who celebrate diversity, we need to be comfortable discussing differences. These conversations don’t have to be scary! Children are innately open-minded and seek honest answers out of honest curiosity. They don’t feel discomfort about differences unless we portray a discomfort to them.
If your child points out differences or asks you about them, pause and take time to have a positive conversation that explains diversity and the value of every person. Our individual gifts and challenges from God come in many different forms. We need to demonstrate this is not only OK but something to celebrate. By doing so, we can model self-acceptance and peer acceptance. Here are some tips for teaching your child to be more inclusive.
- Confront your own biases and be comfortable challenging them. Conscious or unconscious, we all have biases. These can come from our parents, our upbringing and our experiences in the world. Acknowledging they exist and working to overcome them is a crucial step to ensuring that we do not pass down negative biases to our children.
- Model inclusive behavior. Children are always watching, listening and learning. The old adage, “Do as I say and not as I do” does not work for children. They will model our observed behavior. Make sure the behavior you are projecting is the behavior you desire your children to engage in at home, in school and in the community. Celebrate diversity; use respectful language when discussing others, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. Remember the golden rule – love your neighbor as yourself. If you live your life by this rule, your child will as well.
- Teach your child to be full of empathy and positive self-esteem. A child who feels good about who they are is more likely to be inclusive of others. Children who understand how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine how they are feeling will be more likely to stand up for what is right. Jesus is the perfect example of an empathetic person.
- Talk about bullying. When your child understands what empathy is and how to display it, they will naturally be opposed to bullying. Teach your child how to be more than a bystander in bullying situations. Make sure they know how to proactively stand up for others and report bullying behaviors to an adult in charge. Ask your child if there are any students who eat or play alone. Encourage them to be a friend to those students and help them feel included.
- Expose your child to diverse people and experiences. We often belong to social circles or live in communities of people who look like us, believe in similar things, have similar jobs and incomes, etc. Providing opportunities for your child to encounter diversity can help to normalize differences and ensure children are aware there is no “one way” to be. You can do this through visiting museums, attending multi-cultural events, watching programs on TV or reading books that celebrate diverse characters. While exploring diversity, you can also point out the similarities we all have as children of God.
Most importantly, do not shy away from the topic of differences. Be prepared to openly discuss the topic with your child in an honest, age-appropriate way. Children are perceptive. Avoiding an issue will make them feel there is something negative to pay attention to. Remember that God’s love is fully inclusive. If you demonstrate this inclusiveness in your actions, your child will reflect this.
Brooke Skipper, MSW, LCSW, serves as Youth First social worker at St. Benedict Cathedral School in Evansville.