As I travel throughout the U.S. and abroad almost weekly, I have the opportunity to do a lot of people watching. I am proud to say that the majority of the people that I have encountered and observed appear to be good, respectful, kind people. I am very concerned however that in the future that majority may become the minority. We have a real problem today in our country, and in our WORLD… People are just plain mean to each other! A lot of put downs are given and received. Misunderstandings are rampant and invalid, judgmental thinking occurs. What is happening to human kindness?
Many people in the world today struggle with forming and maintaining healthy human relationships. Unfortunately, digital communication is not helping to rectify this problem. People are losing their “people” skills and our children are going to end up paying the price.
Human relationships must have two essential elements: trust and communication. When one or both of these elements is defunct, the relationship becomes unhealthy.
To build communication, people must ask effective questions and LISTEN carefully to answers. Every person wants to feel seen, heard and validated. A breakdown of communication causes misunderstanding. Misunderstanding then causes unpredictability which in turn causes trust to fracture or never form in the first place.
On the flip side, effective communication fosters human understanding which helps to build trust, and allows people to appreciate and celebrate differences in others.
When children feel close, safe, and connected with family, their communication skills and trust levels flourish. When they are allowed to play freely with others, experience ample affection on a regular basis, and are given boundaries and limits set by nurturing adults, they tend to feel more comfortable with themselves. This secure sense of self empowers children to become more relaxed when they encounter people who are different. The safer and more secure a child feels, the more likely that child will be able to establish effective human relationships and ward off judgmental behavior.
By nature, children are not judgmental. They are not born to make damaging assumptions of others based on difference. In fact, children are gifted with an innate sense of justice, and a deep level of respect for everyone. Unfortunately, through our actions and our words, we teach our children how to become judgmental.
Here are a few tips for teaching all people to celebrate and appreciate differences:
1. Expose your child to differences.
What better way to do this than to travel with your children! Experience and celebrate with them first hand different people, different cultures, different customs, different living experiences, different foods, etc., etc.
2. Talk openly about differences.
Information is KEY! Avoiding conversations about differences leads to an increase in judgmental behavior – due to lack of information. Whether we draw attention to it or not, infants and children automatically notice differences in people. Discussing these differences can decrease prejudice, make people feel more comfortable and accepted, and even help kids perform better in school.
People that can connect with others who are different from themselves are more likely to have children who are less judgmental. Reach out to people who are different from you. Become engaged and involved in diversity-enriched events in your community, and cultivate friendships and deep conversation with all different types of people.
4. Look for teachable moments to celebrate differences.
Child – “Duncan is such a weirdo! He makes really strange sounds and flaps his arms all of the time. What a dork!”
Parent – “Duncan has autism. His brain is very unique. It works a lot differently than your brain. When he flaps his arms, his brain is organizing his thoughts. Duncan isn’t weird, he’s different and different is OK.”
5. Make your messages age appropriate.
When children are young, help them interpret the often complicated issues of prejudice, diversity, and equality through healthy dialogue. As they get older, supplement this dialogue through real–world interactions with diverse modeling, understanding, celebration, acceptance and empathy.
6. Practice and model empathy.
Capitalize on opportunities to ask your children how they think others feel. Emphasize the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
7. Reward good behavior. If you see your children interacting effectively with people from different groups or demonstrating genuine concern for the fair and equitable treatment of others, let them know that this makes you proud.
In order for children to truly celebrate and learn to appreciate differences in people, they must be able to understand and make sense of these differences. Building effective human relationships with all types of people is a great way to gain this understanding. Always remember, in order for any human relationship to be successful, TRUST and COMMUNICATION must be intact.
“You may feel unsure when you see a flower whose petals are not blue, but the world would be very boring if all flowers looked just like you. There’s differences in all of us on the inside and the out. Learning how to be flower respectful is what the world should be about.”
“All flowers need to start growing in the right direction! We all need to GROW UP!”
Related: Check out our articles on holiday travel essentials for your babies and toddlers, and seven dishes that will help expand the palate of your picky eater