Teaching Kindness and Acceptance Toward Differences

Teaching children to accept and appreciate others' differences.

If you have a young child, you’ve probably been there. You’ve heard them or another child say something like, “Mommy, look at that lady’s belly,” or “Daddy, that man is SO tall,” or “Why does that person look like that?” or “Look, that man is in a wheelchair!” You get my point. Kids notice things that are different to them. Really, in some ways, we raise them to. We teach them their different colors. We teach them opposites. We teach them to make AB patterns with different objects. The real question, however, is how can we teach our children to accept differences and always choose to be kind?

I always thought I was a kind person. I worked in nonprofits helping others. I had loving and caring parents who taught me to be accepting and kind to others. And when we had our first son, of course we wanted to teach him to grow up to be kind. Then, a year and a half later, we had our second son. And all of a sudden, kindness took on a whole new outlook.

Our second son was born with a rare craniofacial condition called Apert Syndrome. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie “Wonder,” you know of a boy with a similar condition. Our son was born with his skull fused where babies are supposed to have a soft spot, the middle of his face is retracted and will not grow at the same rate as the rest of his skull, his fingers were fused at birth (he’s had surgeries and now has four fingers on each hand) as were his toes, and he has a laundry list of other diagnoses. His physical features are different than most people, but goodness are they adorable! But as his mom (and my husband feels the same way), it became my mission to make sure that we spread the message to be kind to everyone no matter their looks or differences.

Those comments that kids make … well, they make them about my son too. And one day soon, he will be old enough to understand them. So how can we teach our children to choose kindness?

  1. Do not stare. This seems to be a go to. “Don’t stare.” But instead of just telling your child not to stare, why not tell them what TO do. “Say hello!” “Wave!” “Go ask them to play.”

  2. Find commonalities. It is easy to point out differences. Why not encourage your child to find similarities with the other person. Do they both like the Panthers? Do they both love ice cream? Maybe they both have a brother or sister. Or they wear glasses. Find what they have in common, and you’ll often find that kids can take it from there.

  3. Ask questions out of the willingness to learn. This one can be tricky. Some parents and kids with differences may not welcome questions. Each family is different. However, oftentimes, a family who has a child with differences understands that you may have questions. In my case, I welcome questions as long as you are asking because you want to learn and understand. I don’t want to answer questions that are rude. I want to answer something that will help you know how to play with my son or know how to help our family during a surgery. Genuine questions can mean so much. So, be bold yet understanding. Be open to asking and maybe getting a response of “can we talk about this later?” You’ll find that the more you learn about our differences, the less you’ll see them.

  4. Be a friend. Friends are innately kind to each other. So if you’re child is finding it difficult to connect with someone who is different from them, encourage them to be a friend to them. Ask them to play. Ask them to sit together at lunch. Build a relationship. Change your child’s outlook from “that’s the boy with glasses” to “that’s the boy who loves playing hopscotch on the playground with me.”

I could go on and on, but I hope you get where I’m going with this. The point is, we know that differences are what make us all unique. Life would be boring if we were all the same. So instead of focusing so much on the differences in people, why not choose to be kind to everyone. I bet you’ll find that the differences don’t really matter.

Jesanne Roden-Reynolds is wife to Bryan and mother to Jackson (5) and Wesley (3). Originally from central Pennsylvania, they have lived in the Charlotte area since 2014. She and her son Wesley visit schools in person and via the internet to spread the message to Choose Kindness. If you are interested in a presentation, please e-mail kindpresentations@gmail.com. For support and to make more connections within the Charlotte area, consider joining this private Facebook group Special Friends Connection – Charlotte Area.