I watched as a first-grade ballerina stood off to the side, shyly observing several of her classmates spin and giggle hand-in-hand. Even though she’d been in class with them all year long, she seemed hesitant to jump in without an invitation.
My heart longed to remedy that—and, fortunately, I could.
You see, one of those spinning, giggling girls was my daughter. At that moment, she was completely oblivious to anyone outside of her current circle. But, I didn’t want her to be oblivious. I wanted her to learn to notice—and to be quick to include.
So, I discreetly walked over to my girl and whispered, “I think your friend over there might like to be included too.”
She nodded and immediately took action to become an includer instead of an excluder.
But, not all stories of exclusion end so well. I know because I’ve also been the mom of the excluded.
A year earlier, I’d witnessed a clique of girls blatantly and consistently exclude one of my daughters for months. No matter how hard she tried to be included and accepted, they made it clear she wasn’t welcome. While I’d normally encourage my girl to seek out a different group of friends, we were in a situation that required her to spend the majority of her day with these girls. As a result, she daily faced rejection and isolation. We were in a no-win situation.
This experience made me realize how much I long to see my girls be “includers.” I want them to be ready and willing to say, “You are welcome here.”
Because of this, we talk a lot about being inclusive at our house. It’s a trait I regularly encourage my girls to grow better at practicing. Maybe you want the same for your kids.
Just Say “No” to Cliques
One of the primary things we talk about is this: Favorite friends are okay. Cliques are not.
It’s okay for my kids and yours to have close friends. Even Jesus had favorite friends, right? Not only did He have twelve buddies who traveled everywhere with Him, but He had three even closer friends within that twelve.
What’s not okay is if a close friendship develops into a clique. A clique tends to be a close-knit group that clearly communicates “you aren’t welcome” or “you aren’t as good as we are” to those outside the group.
How can we help our kids proactively work to be “includers” and keep their friendships clique-free? We can encourage them to do these things.
- Notice Others
Like my daughter, sometimes kids are simply oblivious. But they don’t have to stay that way.
We can teach our kids to be aware of those who may feel lonely, left out, or simply too shy to reach out. One way to start is by simply talking to them about their day and their friends.
For example, the next time you’re chatting with your kids about how school is going or what dance class or baseball practice was like, ask things like:
- Are there any new kids in your class this year?
- Do you remember when you were the new kid? That was hard, right?
- How can you help this new kid feel welcome?
- You had a good day. Do you think anyone in your class may have had a tough one today? Why?
These type of questions can help them learn to shift their focus from “all about me” to others.
- Extend Invitations
My girls and I recently ate at Magnolia Table, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ restaurant in Waco, Texas. The words, “Where everyone has a seat at the table,” were written on the wall. I love that!
Encourage your kids to invite those who may be new, lonely, or left out to eat lunch at their table or play with them at recess. This doesn’t mean they have to be best friends, but it does mean showing the love of Jesus to them. It means treating them with respect and communicating through their actions: You matter to me because You matter to God.
- Be Kind
When it all comes down to it, the most important thing you and I can as parents is to model for our kids what it looks like to be an “Includer.” It starts with our example.
I love what author Kari Kampakis writes, “Kindness among young girls doesn’t start on the playground or in the locker room–it starts at home. Most notably, it starts with kind mothers raising kind daughters.” And I’d say the same thing when it comes to sons too.
The next time my young ballerina finds herself spinning and giggling with friends, it’s my hope that I won’t need to prompt her to be an includer. Instead, I pray that our ongoing conversations will prompt her to take notice, extend invitations, and be kind all on her own.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of “Team Us: Marriage Together” and “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard.” Find out more about Ashleigh at AshleighSlater.com or follow her on Facebook.