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Teaching Children to be Accepting

February 3, 2010
Times Observer

Bullying! It's a huge problem in our society and in our schools. People think that if they make fun or degrade someone else it makes them feel superior or better. In actuality, degrading another person really makes you seem crude and a bully. How do we teach our children to respect others, even those who are different than themselves? It's a big task but it can be accomplished with many small steps.

When you hear an inappropriate or negative comment about another person from your child, you really need to address the issue every time. Allowing this behavior to happen encourages children to continue to be accepting of these inappropriate comments.

One of the things that happened in our family to help teach our children about acceptance, empathy and compassion is that we had two friends who had handicapping conditions. One of my dearest friends has a daughter that has Down Syndrome. She was about 15 years older than my children but had the mental capabilities of a six-year-old. Often our two families would get together and have dinner and socialize in the evenings. Colleen, my friends daughter, would join us and she would watch television with our boys (ages 9, 7 & 4 at the time) and then when it was time for them to go to bed, I'd take them upstairs to tuck them in. It never failed that as soon as I had them all in bed, Colleen would sneak to the bottom of the stairs and turn off the hallway light. All three would inevitably scream because it got dark upstairs and Colleen would run back to the family room giggling. Eventually, the boys realized Colleen did this because she was teasing them and had a great sense of humor. It was a good lesson for them to learn. They looked at Colleen differently after that and I think they developed a greater respect for people with Down Syndrome.

Another situation in our lives that helped encourage my boys to look for the ABILITIES in a person instead of their DISabilities, is our youngest son’s friend, Josh. Josh was born with several physical disabilities that put him in a full body cast and a reclined wheel chair one summer. I remember our son, Alex, inviting Josh to attend Vacation Bible School with him at our church. Josh did attend and I was concerned about what he would do during gym time each day. Alex had no concerns at all. Each day he would wheel Josh to the parking lot for the daily kick ball game. Alex would line Josh's chair up at home plate and kick the ball for him. Alex would then push the chair from base to base, careful to keep Josh in place, but not too careful....after all they were six-year-old boys.

Diane has been married to her husband, Randy, for twenty-six years. They have three sons. She is currently the Director of Religious Education of Holy Apostles Parish and teaches religion and math at the Catholic Academy of the Holy Family. She is also the Program Director at the Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown.



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