Creating Caring And Compassionate Leaders Among Children: Coaching Social Inclusion Behaviors To Children


Any advice on how kids can learn to be more accepting of others?
Despite increased awareness of the various forms of bullying, and school based programs to combat it, countless children continue to perpetuate intentional mean-spirited actions directed at peers and adults. Whether it takes place in the home, school bus, carpool, playground, or classroom preying upon sensitivities of others and/or harsh rejecting efforts aimed to exclude have become commonplace. Perhaps it’s time for parents and teachers to coach children in practicing socially inclusive behaviors that create conditions where bullying and exclusion are not reinforced by peers. 
Read on for ways to help instill within children interest in demonstrating acceptance and belonging towards others:
Speak to the verbal and nonverbal messages that children send to one another, and the likely interpretations others arrive at about them. Emphasize how smiling or lack thereof, friendly vs. caustic tones of voice, initiation vs. absence of warm greetings in group settings, and other social signature behaviors are quickly assigned meaning by observers. In simplest terms, these behaviors lead others to view them as either nice or mean. Explain how sending social inclusion signals, and putting an end to social exclusion, can make them a caring and compassionate leader in their peer group.
Expose typical exclusion behaviors and suggest ways for them to respond with inclusion. One of the most insidious patterns is the “messenger of mean information” when a child deliberately delivers another’s hurtful words to a third person with the intention of either destroying a friendship or vengeful retaliation. Another example is incessant ridicule designed to elicit laughter from bystanders and instill humiliation upon the target. Challenge children to stand up to these negative patterns with strong inclusion signals, such as telling others that badmouthing reflects poorly upon them or expressing support for the target within the group when the mistreatment is going on.
Educate children about the harmful social and personal costs of groups that build bonds by badmouthing and excluding others. Certain words such as weird, nerd, or annoying can quickly place a caption under another child and subject them to exclusion. Similarly, intentional “forgetting” to include or invite a supposed friend sends a clear signal of rejection.  Explain how subtle social forces within friend groups may make it hard to speak up in support of the excluded. Encourage them not to give in to these negative rules but to be the advocate for the “forgotten friend” who wants very much to be included. Ask that they step up to make the call that the others won’t.  
Build a two-way dialogue where they can ask questions and make comments about the social world of adulthood and childhood.  Highlight the ways warm and caring people send inclusive signals to others, and see if they can make some of these behaviors part of their social repertoire. Explain how it is especially vital when meeting new people to make a social first impression of warmth and acceptance no matter what mood they are in or what they have been told about the person.    
Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist and author in Plymouth Meeting. Contact him at 610-238-4450 or