Few things hurt like being left out of activities, not because you lack the ability or desire but surface physical differences. Fortunately, like empathy, inclusion is a life skill that you can teach.
How can you do so? You don’t have to earn a degree in education.
Here are five thoughtful ways to teach our children to be more inclusive.
1. Through the Performing Arts
The performing arts have long welcomed those that mainstream society deems too different, too outrageous, too “much.” That’s because theater deals with the human condition in all its unique expressions. Looking at the world through the multiple perspectives of different characters also helps your child develop empathy, a quality this world sorely needs.
You can also teach your children to be more inclusive through your entertainment selections. Plenty of movies feature actors with disabilities, although there is still a need for more. For example, the Academy Award-nominated film “CODA” deals with the internal conflicts faced by the only hearing child in a deaf family.
Seek ways to teach inclusion when attending events. For example, many professional performances feature sign language interpreters. Could your children follow them if they had to do so, or would visual obstructions or poor lighting pose additional problems? What would you do as a stage crew member to improve accessibility?
2. Through Sports
The world of sports is another arena for breaking barriers and teaching children to be more inclusive. It doesn’t matter what color your skin tone is when you take the field. All that matters is how well you play.
The sports world is also no stranger to controversy. While no one would dream of segregating teams by race today, many areas have proposed or enacted legislation banning trans athletes from participating in teams that match their gender identity.
Science indicates that much more contributes to gender identity than chromosomes or external genitalia. Proponents of such legislation claim that those with higher testosterone levels have an advantage over others. However, hormonal levels naturally fluctuate across individuals. It’s like banning someone with 20/20 vision from flying a plane because other pilots require corrective lenses.
You might not be able to single-handedly change the prevailing mores where you live. However, you can advocate for inclusion — your children will notice.
3. Through Literature
Maybe you remember reading “The Miracle Worker” as a child. Books are a fabulous way to teach children to be more inclusive. Introducing them to characters with various physical disabilities or radically different cultures helps them recognize their shared humanity. They’re more likely to respond with acceptance instead of fear when encountering such people in real life.
What should you add to your child’s bookshelf? Preschool-age children might enjoy books like “All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color” by Katie Kissinger and Chris Bohnhoff. Teens might enjoy “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness” by Elyn R. Saks, which tells the tale of her journey through schizophrenia.
4. Through Education
Public education has long pioneered methods for teaching inclusion. However, you might be one of many parents homeschooling your children, especially if your district is in a state that banned mask mandates and your little one has a health condition.
If so, you might need to go the extra mile when selecting materials for your classroom. Do the stories you choose for literature class feature protagonists of varying ethnic backgrounds, gender, and physical ability levels? Were they written by people of diverse life histories, or do all the authors come from a singular demographic?
The critical race theory debate rages in many districts. You can play a part by insisting that your educational leaders don’t “whitewash” American history and instead show how racial bias influences many social constructs, such as the “War on Drugs.”
It’s simple, for example, to blame poverty on poor choices. It becomes more complicated until you realize that it was legal to discriminate against people of color who wanted to purchase a home until 1968. They could discriminate against issuing credit to women without their husband’s signatures until 1974. Homeownership is how most families build wealth, and until quite recently, many folks weren’t even allowed in the game.
5. Through Spiritual Practices
Finally, your spiritual practices can teach your children to be more inclusive. Nearly every major world religion preaches some version of “love thy neighbor” and “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Focus on those stories that reinforce these ideas, such as the tale of the good Samaritan in the Christian tradition.
What if you don’t follow any particular faith? You don’t have to espouse worship as an atheist by any means. However, you might consider taking your children to various services to introduce them to different faiths. Who knows? You might find the activity enlightening, even if you don’t convert or change your personal beliefs.
Thoughtful Ways to Teach Our Children to Be More Inclusive
Some people say the world has become too divisive. However, change starts with the young. You have a unique opportunity to teach your children to include and accept others through your words and example.
You don’t need a degree in education to raise aware and sensitive children. Follow the five thoughtful ways above to teach your children to be more inclusive.
Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing you’ll find her in a yoga class, advocating for body positivity, whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, or smashing the patriarchy.
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