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Like it or not humans are not born “basically good”. Teaching your kids how to treat people with differences is an important part of raising good kids.
My favorite posts on social media are the ones prefaced with “-rant ahead-“. You can learn a lot from these posts about other people and what they expect from the rest of the world. Recently a mom posted in one of my Facebook groups. She began her post with “-rant ahead-“.
She explained that she is a mom of a special needs child. On an outing not long ago she encountered another mom and her children. These children were naturally curious and stared as the mom of the special needs child began to unload the wheelchair and her daughter out of the car.
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The other mom, noticing her kids’ curiosity loudly corrected her children with a firm, “Don’t stare! It’s rude!”.
Of course, other passerby’s turned to see what they shouldn’t be staring at. The mom of the disabled girl was mortified at the amount of attention she was now getting.
After recounting her story, the mom reminded us all how important it is to teach our kids how to treat others especially when they are different than you.
It Starts At Home
Your kids are still learning. Just like you, they will make mistakes and they will not always treat people well. They will not always be courteous, well-mannered, or polite. Kids are are not born with natural niceties. Social graces, polite behavior, respect, and common courtesies are all learned behaviors.
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Model appropriate behavior
Don’t tell your kids the behavior you want them to display and then act a different way yourself. Instead, model the behavior you want to see.
- If you want your child to show good manners, have them yourself. Say “please” and “thank you”. Use “yes ma-am/sir”. Let them hear these words used appropriately and often.
- Show courtesy to others by opening doors, yielding the right-of-way, and offering assistance.
- If you don’t want your kids to use “certain words”, don’t use them yourself.
- Tone matters! When speaking to your children, make sure you are modeling the tone you want to hear from them, i.e. don’t yell at them not to yell.
I was working at my computer in the kitchen. My kids had a bunch of pent up energy from multiple days of rain and cold weather. Emotions were running high and my kids were getting louder and more obnoxious by the second. After what seemed like an eternity of my daughter whining, “staaaahhpuh!” at her brother, I had enough. I stood up and walked over to my kids trying not to react in anger.
Standing over my children I firmly informed them that their behavior was to change. I told my son to go to another area of the room and to play alone until my timer went off.
Turning to my daughter I informed her that there was no reason for her to whine at her brother. My voice getting more fervent I said, “If you have a problem, you come get me and I will handle it. You don’t need to whine. Just staaaahhpuh!”
I immediately felt shame and conviction because my daughter had only been mimicking my own behavior. I decided then and there to make more of an effort to intentionally model the behavior I want my children to display especially when interacting with them.
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Talk to your kids
I always thought talking to my kids about these tougher subjects would come naturally to me. After all, I’m a mom with instincts. I will certainly know exactly what to say and when and my kids will understand and never question.
It’s important to intentionally instruct your kids how to treat others. Vague public corrections like “stop that”, “be nice/polite/kind”, or the timeless “straighten up your act” will only work if they know exactly what their behavior should and should not be. This only comes from you directly telling your kids how they should and should not act.
Don’t get angry with your kids for staring open mouthed at strangers if you have never told them why it’s not “polite” and what they should do instead. Disciplining your child for being rude is only effective if you’ve explained the difference between rude and respectful.
Use your activities
Car rides make perfect opportunities to talk to your kids about how to treat others. Use where you’re going to start conversations.
- If you’re going to a doctor for a check-up talk about how to treat the sick.
- When you’re going to grocery stores, talk about common courtesy.
- On the way to church for Sunday services talk about how important it is to live out your faith in your daily life and not just at church.
The conversations don’t have to be elaborate speeches rehearsed well in advance. Calmly and simply explain exactly what you expect and why it’s important.
Practice During Play
During play, use their interactions with other children as practice. Encourage them to be sensitive and courteous. Teach them to set appropriate boundaries with other kids and to respect the boundaries of others.
My daughter is a hugger. Her love language is touch. At four, it’s hard for her to understand that there are some who do not want to be touched. My youngest son is one of them. When they’re playing together, I remind her often that he doesn’t want to be touched and she needs to find another way of showing love.
Role play is also a great way to learn how we should treat others. Create a scenario and then have your kids act it out. You will be surprised at how natural emotions will take over especially when you’re acting out a (closely supervised) negative situation. Take some time to discuss these emotions and remind them other people have them too.
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It’s Ok to Ask
When we first began physical and occupational therapy for my youngest, I explained to my two older kids that they would see many different children while their brother was in therapy. They would see kids with struggles they would not understand. There would be kids in wheelchairs, kids that couldn’t speak, kids that looked different.
I said if they had any questions, they could ask me.
A little girl and her mom came in one day. The girl was slumped in a wheelchair. My kids were naturally curious and asked me about her. At first I tried to answer their questions generically; “She is in a wheelchair because she can’t walk” kind of answers.
When their questions continued, I stuffed aside my inhibitions and said, “I don’t know. Let’s go ask her mom.”
My kids and I walked over and I said, “We noticed your beautiful daughter and my kids had some questions about her disabilities.”
The woman was thrilled! She willingly answered my kids’ questions and she and I had a wonderful conversation. My kids started interacting with the little girl and quickly realized that disabilities were nothing to fear.
Caregiving and Kids
One of the bonuses as a sandwiched homemaker is I have a built in way to teach my kids to treat people with differences. They daily witness acts of caregiving, how to show love and caring through our actions, and handling tough situations with grace.
Their character develops through watching me interact with my MIL and also having the opportunity to be involved in caregiving themselves.
- They fear differences less. A lot of times we act inappropriately because we truly just don’t know how to act around people who are different than us.
- Putting the needs of others above their own needs is practiced daily.
- Being sensitive to those around you and how your actions affects others is a necessity in our home.
- “Special needs” and taking care of your loved ones becomes a normal part of life.
As parents our greatest desire is to have good-natured, caring children who show love to everyone around them. We often feel a lot of guilt when our children don’t display these character traits naturally. We forget that it’s absolutely normal and while some children are natural empathizers, most aren’t. With intentional training and effort your kids will learn how to treat people with kindness and compassion.
Did you like this post? How do you teach your kids to treat people with differences? Let me know in the comments below!
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