Teaching Inclusion To Young People

Recently, I found myself sharing stories with another parent regarding a new concept implemented at our children’s school a few weeks ago: the Buddy Bench. This simple concept encourages students to notice when someone is feeling left out or lonely and offer kindness, friendship and inclusion in response. At school, the Buddy Bench is labeled and in clear view. If someone is sitting on the bench, students are encouraged to include that child in a game they are playing or to talk to them and foster a friendship.

In the article “How to Teach Your Child to Be An Includer” author and licensed clinical social worker Katie Hurley outlines four ways to help your children be more inclusive: Listen and empathize when your child has been excluded or witnessed it in peer groups, be an example of an includer by modeling friendly behavior, teach them how to look for someone who needs a friend (and practice ways to invite them to join) and talk about unintentional exclusion.

We know children learn by observing, so it’s important to set a positive example for the children in your life. It is crucial to their development and will help them grow into kind, positive role models. Be aware of someone being ignored or overlooked. Be willing to wait for someone to try again after they missed on their first try. Teach children how to bring the disengaged in, as well as how to embrace the perspective of the outsider.

When we teach our children to be includers, we show that each person is important and has value. We recognize the importance of everyone’s opinions and thoughts, and we open doors to cultivating new friendships and learning experiences.

Kerry Martin is the Office Coordinator at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana. Since 1987, Youth Resources has engaged over 149,000 youth in leadership development and community service through its youth-led TEENPOWER, Teen Advisory Council, Vanderburgh County Teen Court and Make A Difference Grant programs. For more information, please call (812) 421-0030 or visit www.youth-resources.org.