No one likes to feel left out, but unfortunately, it's a common experience in early childhood. Kids can be excluded from activities on the playground and in the classroom, and sometimes they can also be inadvertently excluded at home. Even worse, if your children are not taught inclusion from an early age, they may accidentally or purposefully exclude others.
It's important to encourage inclusive behavior at home in order to foster healthy relationships and promote good mental health. Plus, being inclusive is an essential part of kindness. Read on to learn why inclusiveness is important and how you can encourage it within your family.
Why Teach Inclusiveness?
People need to feel a sense of social belonging to be happy, and this especially applies to children and teenagers. Because of this need, social exclusion is often used as a way to bully or manipulate other people. Exclusion, in this way, is a form of relational aggression, which is defined as a type of behavior that aims to wound others by damaging their relationships.
Though not all exclusion is intentionally aggressive, the pain of being left out feels the same. Social rejection processes similarly to physical pain in the brain, and exclusion could have lasting impacts on mental health, sometimes leading to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and aggression.
With these negative outcomes in mind, it becomes clear that teaching and encouraging social inclusiveness should be a part of every child's education. It's difficult to control whether or not other children are excluding your kid from activities, but at home, you can practice being inclusive in order to teach your children that you value them and that they should treat others with equal kindness.
Encouraging inclusiveness is something that can be best done by family members. However, it may take more effort than simply reminding your child to share. People of all ages can exclude others, and this exclusion can be intentional, unintentional, verbal, nonverbal and even ideological.
The good news is that working on inclusiveness can make everyone in your family happier and more socially content, so taking steps to become more inclusive is definitely worth the effort.
How Can You Encourage Inclusiveness?
Encouraging inclusiveness is not difficult to do. Here are some ways you can put it into practice at home.
- Set Ground Rules and Expectations: Social exclusion often happens with children during unstructured, free playtime. Though free play is important and necessary for healthy child development, you should watch to make sure your children aren't excluding others. Check on your kids from time to time. If you notice a pattern of exclusion emerging, talk with them about why and how they should avoid it. Challenge your kids to come up with creative ways to include others so they can make their own rules without sacrificing kindness.
- Encourage Empathy: Accidental exclusion might happen when you are simply not thinking about other people's feelings. For some kids, it is difficult to understand how much exclusion hurts until they've experienced it themselves. Model empathy and help your child understand what they're feeling. By practicing and encouraging empathy, it will become easier for both you and your children to consider the feelings of others.
- Communicate Openly: At home, it's easy to exclude young kids from your family's decision-making processes. Sometimes it's just not possible to let everyone have a say. However, if your family doesn't encourage open communication, your children could begin to feel excluded and undervalued. Try including every family member in the decision-making process. Allow everyone, including kids, to share their opinions respectfully without being interrupted. Then, discuss perspectives and try to find common ground. Though you may not come to a perfect compromise, this sort of involvement can help kids feel understood and included and be more likely to try similar strategies on their own.
- Model Good Behavior: Part of teaching kids to be inclusive is to model good behavior yourself. Think about ways in which you might exclude people in your day-to-day life and make efforts to reach out to others. Approach families you don't normally talk to at school functions and be welcoming to people of all backgrounds.
- Don't Be a Bystander: Sometimes adults can be nasty to each other. If you aren't careful, you might end up teaching your children that it's OK to stand by while someone else is bullied. If you hear other people using prejudiced language or actively excluding someone else, intervene if you are in a position to do so. Supporting people who are being excluded is a great way to practice and teach inclusiveness.
- Provide Supervision: A lot of exposure to exclusion and bullying today comes from social media. Even if your kids aren't directly involved, it's important to remind them that just because it's happening online doesn't make it any less hurtful. Furthermore, if your kids are exposed to discriminatory or violent language either on television, online or in person, make sure to address it and make it clear that kind of behavior is exclusionary, too.
- Seek Understanding: Finally, remember that a large part of empathy and kindness comes from being able to understand others. Encourage your kids and your family to seek people who are different from you, read about their experiences and make new friends.
Encouraging inclusiveness in your family is a great way to help your kids develop the healthy social skills they need. It can remind them, and you, that kindness should always be a priority.