We teach our children to be kind, inclusive and stand up for others, but far too often parents let teachable moments slip by instead of modeling these same skills. We all have heard the stories or read the articles about the small number of friends who show up at a birthday party for a kiddo with special needs. Many times, the adults in the community step up and save the day, which is heartwarming; yet, I cannot help but think about all the discussions in the homes of the kiddos who were invited. I wonder if these kiddos expressed ambivalence about going and parents validated those thoughts as they too may have some unexpressed discomfort. Is it possible some parents simply rationalized the party of a non-preferred peer to be unimportant and not a priority for making the family calendar? Did parents take the opportunity to talk with their children about the situation and how things may be similar or different than past birthday parties and then make their decision to attend?
Whatever the reason, I want to encourage parents to be more mindful about these moments. Most families these days are very busy and certainly prioritizing time for family and activities is essential. Yet, this does seem to be a missed opportunity to talk with children about the differences of others which includes the critical skills of learning to think about others. These skills must be nurtured and practiced if they are going to become part of who we are and hope for our children to become.
As parents, we need to not shy away from things that make us uncomfortable or come up with excuses why we cannot do something. We need to view these moments as an opportunity to educate yourself about a condition or struggle someone at our child’s school, or community may be having. Many times, misinformation leads us to avoid the potential awkwardness of unchartered waters. We may find ourselves rationalizing how not going to an activity/event is the polite thing to do. If we are honest, we learn that many of the decisions we make for ourselves and families are linked to maintaining our comfort. We gravitate toward what and who we know, however, when time and energy allow, gift yourself with the opportunity to learn more and grow. Take these opportunities to learn about another family’s story that may be out of your usual circle. These moments are precious with the potential to build kindness, empathy, resilience, and perseverance.