Raising tolerant children can be an uphill battle, especially given the current political climate. A principal friend of mine recently shared that some of her students told their Latinx classmates that construction going on at the school was actually "building the wall," and they wouldn't be allowed to attend. The uptick in bias-based bullying and harassment in the past year has been dubbed "The Trump Effect," and it's what progressive parents are now facing. Fortunately, all across the nation, millennial moms are finding ways to raise more inclusive kids.
As a teacher, I prided myself on my inclusive practices. I spent a summer in a science class to get over my fear of creepy-crawlies, just so I could be a better example for my female students. I skipped holiday celebrations so as not to leave out students of different religious backgrounds. I used reading exercises, lessons, and relational approaches to stop anti-LGBTQ comments. I worked to make my classroom a welcoming place for all families and all children.
Now that I have a daughter, I'm even more committed to helping raise a generation of inclusive kiddos. I see things like threats agains Jewish community centers, discrimination at airports, and the withdrawal of the federal guidance for supporting transgender students, and I see how important it is to nurture empathy and a heart for social justice in my child. I want her to be the kind of person who stands up for herself and others.
I know I'm not alone, so shout-out to all the millennial parents out there doing everything they can to raise inclusive children. The world will thank you.
They Reject The Gender Binary
The gender binary is the rigid concept that there are only two options for gender: male and female. We now know this construct is limiting and doesn't allow for the variety of gender identities that actually exist. A gender spectrum is a much more accurate model for representing people's lived experiences.
So what does this look like for millennial parents? Basically, it means giving your child the freedom, space, and support to be who they are. Remove gendered expectations (pink and blue, for example) and allow kids to make their own choices and pursue their interests. Make room for gender expansive and gender creative behaviors, expressions, and identities.
They Use Correct, Age-Appropriate Vocabulary
Progressive, millennial parents don't shy away from difficult conversations. They know that children aren't colorblind, and that it's OK to notice differences. They're also aware that remaining silent on these issues is counterproductive. Therefore, they answer their children's questions in a simple, direct, matter of fact way.
They also teach them the correct, respectful vocabulary to describe difference (even if they have to learn it themselves first). For example, if a child asks what "gay" means, moms raising tolerant kids simply respond, "It means a man and a man or a woman and a woman who love each other."
They Encourage Cross-Racial And Cross-Gender Friendships
Cross-racial friendships are incredibly beneficial. Greater interracial friendliness is associated with higher academic aspirations and outcomes as well as increased social competence. Perhaps most important, it fosters greater minority acceptance.
Likewise, cross-gender friendships can help children buck gender roles and expectations. It also exposes them to types of play outside their typical gender culture (e.g. rough and tumble for boys, dolls for girls).
They Let Toys Be Toys
Moms bringing up inclusive children don't buy toys that are specifically marketed to one gender. Girls don't need Legos to be pink in order to be interested in building. Boys need access to play kitchens because cooking should not be a gendered activity. When children learn that everyone gets to play with what they like, they are both safe to be themselves and less likely to pick on gender non-conforming children.
They Read Inclusive Books
An essential component of fostering inclusivity in children is providing them with windows and mirrors. Kids should see themselves reflected in literature because it helps them build positive identity associations. However, they also need to be exposed to people who are different, and picture books are an excellent way to do this. My personal favorite is The Great Big Book of Families because it shows the many ways a family can be, but asserts that what makes a family is love.
They Address Stereotypes
Parents are their children's first and, in my opinion, most important teachers. So when they hear their kids express a stereotype, they use it as a teachable moment. Maybe they say that all Asians are good at math. That's a great opportunity to talk about how race and ability are unrelated. Perhaps they comment that pink is a girl's color. Mom replies, "There's no such thing as boy and girl colors!"
They Interrupt Bullying Behavior
No parent wants to be faced with the fact that their child has engaged in bullying. But in this case, we have to get over ourselves. Bullying behavior is detrimental (to say the least) to both parties involved. It's first about protecting the child that is targeted, but it's also about engaging bystanders and addressing the bias behind bullying behavior. Engaged moms will stop bullying, name it, and proactively work with their child to prevent it from happening again.
They Model Inclusive Behavior
Parents who want kids to be "includers" walk the walk, even when this stretches their comfort zones. They actively seek out friendships with people who are different than they are. Their children never hear them body shame anyone or use the word "retarded" or "gay" to mean something bad. They don't roll their eyes when walking behind someone in a wheelchair. They know their kids are watching.
They Encourage Kindness And Empathy
We know that empathy is the key to preventing bullying. There are many ways to foster kindness and compassion in children. As previously mentioned, books are a great way to allow kids to be in another person's shoes. Specifically for teaching empathy, I like Each Kindness and The Invisible Boy. These can be great conversation starters for discussions about difference. In all we do as mothers, we must emphasize the humanity of every person and then live that belief.
The Teach Ally Behavior
Inclusive kids are upstanders. But that doesn't mean they have to confront a bully. Just as there are many ways to be an ally as an adult (like sitting next to someone on public transportation being harassed for their head scarf or helping transgender people feel comfortable in gendered spaces), there are many ways children can be a friend to child who is victimized.
Child allies can speak out, listen and comfort, get the targeted child out of the situation, seek help from an adult, and learn about differences. Moms who raise inclusive kids will be mothers of adults who are caring, compassionate, agents of social justice. It's an outcome we to which we can all aspire.