Children often get bad press, with stories of teasing and bullying in schools and phrases such as ‘kids can be cruel’ regularly used.
However, I wanted to shine a light on the fact that, in my opinion (as a qualified teacher and parent) the majority of children can be kind, caring and empathetic. Yes there are certainly children who are unkind to others, but there are also children who could teach a lot of adults on how to be accepting and inclusive of others. It’s also our job as parents and teachers to encourage children to be kind and compassionate.
So how can we ensure they keep these wonderful qualities? As parents and teachers how can we nurture their kindness and inclusivity?
The key to any of these ways is to start nurturing these qualities early! Children can easily be influenced, either way. So, start instilling these important values of kindness and acceptance when they are babies. Help to make it part of who they are, then as they grow up and face influences from others, they are less likely to think unkindness and exclusion is OK.
-Reading – Books teach children a lot more than just how to read. In fact, children’s books are my ally when it comes to explaining difficult situations and concepts. Books can shape the way we feel and think about things. They can open up our worlds and foster understanding of differences between us all. Therefore, to help children to be kind and inclusive, I recommend reading books who’s morals are of kindness and acceptance. If your child is old enough, ask them questions about the books too and open up basic discussions about right and wrong. There are brilliant books available to help get children thinking about others with special educational needs. For example, Genevieve Yusuf’s children’s books Ranvir Cannot Hear and Sam and the Spider.
Ranvir Cannot Hearis a beautifully illustrated book about an elephant who has a hearing impairment . On his journey to ‘find his hearing’ he discovers that everyone he meets has their own challenges in life, but they are OK because they have other talents. Sam and the Spider
is a brilliant book about a child with special educational needs who finds school difficult but is helped by kindness from an unlikely friend! Read with children, these books help children to develop empathy and understanding of special educational needs.
-Praise– Children (and lets face it..adults) thrive on praise..so praise them for being kind and inclusive. Encourage it with positivity! Don’t just praise them for good test results or for being great at sport. In my opinion, kindness is even more important- so show them this. If they’ve helped another child at school who was upset, or made sure everyone was included in their game- tell them ‘Well Done’, reinforce how that will have made the other children feel and make them feel proud for being lovely!
-Talk to Children about Special Needs and Disabilities– Understanding is so important, if a child understands why someone is different to them, they are more likely to be accepting and empathetic. Talk to them in simple terms about disabilities and special needs. You could start with explaining why people wear glasses or hearing aids. It is unlikely that they don’t know anyone who wears glasses or has a hearing aid, but if they don’t then explain it when you see them in use on TV or in a book. Ranvir Cannot Hearfor example, is a great book for introducing children to hearing impairments.
-Answering Questions Honestly and with Compassion– questions and discussions are imperative to nurturing their kindness and inclusivity. Whether it be explaining why someone is misbehaving or discussing disabilities, they are important conversations to have with children.
For example, i heard a young child who saw a girl in a wheelchair (maybe for the first time) say ‘why is that little girl not walking?’ when the parent explained that the little girl was in a wheelchair perhaps because she was unable to walk, the child said ‘ok ..but she can play with toys with her hands’ the parent agreed with the child. What this taught me was how children look at the world, the child wasn’t asking why she wasn’t walking to be unkind, but in fact, checking that the little girl was able to still play! The parent didn’t tell her child off for asking, she openly answered the question and in turn normalised disabilities. Knowing how young children can often spring questions on us without warning (and often very loudly!) I always think its a good idea to think through your responses to questions like these, ensuring that your answer (that may well stick in your child’s mind and shape their views) helps them to be inclusive of others. Also be extremely mindful of the feelings of the person with disabilities that they are asking questions about, make sure your answer wouldn’t upset them.
-Modelling– One of the most important ways of helping children to be kind and inclusive is to model it yourself. Children learn so much from the ways their caregivers act day to day. If they observe us being kind and caring to others, they will do the same. If they see us treating others with respect and kindness- they will copy. It will always stick in my mind when I saw my mum stop to ask a disabled man if he needed help to put on his coat when it was raining. She showed kindness and compassion to a stranger and in doing so showed others, like me, to step out of their comfort zones and think about other people.
This article was sponsored by Genevieve Yusuf and the Multischools Council, with whom she collaborated with to produce Sam and the Spider
Genevieve Yusuf is a children’s author who has written Ranvir Cannot Hear and Sam and the Spider Both books promote understanding of special educational needs and illustrate the importance of kindness and empathy. They also encourage children to focus on their own positives, showing them that despite any difficulties they might have, everyone has something they excel at! Her books can be found on Amazon here or on her website here