An atypical child enters the swimming pool and ALL the other children in the pool scurry away. The lonely child feels lonelier and is unable to even say it.
A child with a divorced mum is teased and bullied at school because “his dad left him”. The bullied child hits back with punches and kicks. He is punished for being a bully.
A seven year old boy is repeatedly teased by his friends because he likes to play with dolls. He stops playing with toys and spends his time on video games. Alone.
A dark skinned child is picked on by his neighbourhood children because of his colour. He stops going out. He feels ugly and unwanted.
A child from a minority community is teased at school for eating meat. He stops eating it. He wants to be accepted.
A child who is a refugee from another country is taunted for his “funny” speech. He stops talking. He is called dumb in class.
An 11 year old girl is teased by the other girls in class because she likes to play with boys. She asks me if playing with boys makes her a “bad girl”.
None of the above incidents are imaginary. Each one of them comes from either a personal experience or incidents reported by friends and family and gleaned from authentic Facebook posts. What are these incidents telling us? All these incidents exhibit states of mind and feelings that no parent in their right mind would want their kids to experience. But are we extending that concern to other children?
As parents, we are failing to bring up our children with a sense of empathy and kindness for those who may be different from typical children in any way. We’re teaching them that difference of any kind-of behaviour, choices, speech, looks, eating habits, family structure- is unacceptable. Yes we’re giving them better education, more facilities, more exposure in terms of activities but we’re forgetting to teach them one fundamental aspect of human development- that all growth is not outward, growth must also include a widening of inward senses like those of acceptance, kindness and inclusion.
It’s great to learn how to play the guitar and swim, dance or cook but what does all this learning mean if it is only geared towards social acceptance, material success and pleasure? Yes, we’re teaching our children to excel, to succeed, to stand out as brightly as possible, but are we forgetting to teach them how not to make life difficult for those who may not have what they have, who may not be as quick or pretty or strong or smart as them? Are we forgetting how to teach them to not just reach their highest human potential but also to be more humane?
I think we are.
As a race human beings have become adept at creating rigid codes of conduct within social structures which exclude or look down upon anything that might be uncommon. Popular culture, media, social behaviour all together enforce these codes subtly but the effect this creates on those who’re on the other side of the acceptability fence is devastating. One look at newspaper headlines reporting lynching and bullying, mental health and self harm statistics concerning children and adolescents is proof enough for those of us who still believe in the infallible goodness of their personal cocoons. I’m not saying that the world is a bad place, but it can be a very unkind place for anyone who feels like a square peg in a round hole.
So what can we do if we want our children to be loving and kind and not just smart? What do we do if we don’t want to raise bullies, hecklers and haters? We can start with small things-
Explain differences with warmth and acceptance when your child points out something to you. It could be a new kid in class who is different in some way or something that was heard or seen by your child which made him/her uncomfortable.
Call out and reprimand behaviour that includes teasing, bullying and shaming. Especially if it’s your child pointing fingers at others. Kids often copy rude behaviour without understanding its implications. Take the time to explain what causes hurt to other people and why.
Select books and media for your children that discuss diversity, inclusion, warmth and empathy in a child friendly manner. Explore these with your children over readings and discussions. Include and examine every perspective involved. Encourage healthy arguments without putting down anyone.
Above all, embody empathetic behaviour. Be that neighbourhood Aunty who welcomes all kids in her home despite their many different traits. Do a little something to include the little girl from the school bus who can’t walk the next time you have a birthday party. All games don’t have to be about running, do they?
Reach out to your child the next time you see him/her shocked or uncomfortable about a scarred face or a little body in callipers and tell him it is okay. Show him how even those who look different from us are similar in many ways. Encourage your kids to befriend and stand up for the shy and bullied kids in class.
Be mindful of how you behave with staff, subordinates or house helps. Your children learn from you.
Introduce toys and games that don’t adhere to stereotypes of any kind. Break stereotypes yourself. If your child sees how unafraid you are of being seen as different from the rest, he will learn to embrace difference as natural. Difference is cool. It makes us who we are, who we can be despite our limitations.
No one said parenting was easy and maybe being mindful of the above will mean extra time and energy given on your part. But if, because of how you behave and teach your child, a square peg somewhere feels that maybe it doesn’t need to fit into a round hole, that it is beautiful and worthy as it is, it’ll all be worth the effort, no?
This post was inspired by personal experiences and the following post the writer came across on Facebook-
Here are some links you can look at to select books that celebrate diversity and inclusion-
Let’s get to work 🙂