When people claim that children can be so cruel, what they often fail to acknowledge is that children need to be taught many of the societal rules we take for granted as we get older. Inclusivity is one of those rules, and studies show concepts of inclusion and exclusion of peers can happen as early as preschool.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- What is Relational Aggression?
- How to Teach Children to Be Inclusive
- 1. Reject the “In” Crowd
- 2. Support Individuality
- 3. Reach Out
- 4. Learn About Intention
- 5. Empower Kids
- Contact Playworld to Design or Upgrade Your Playground
What Is Relational Aggression?
Relational aggression is a fairly new term used to describe aggressive behavior that is not physical. It is a form of bullying in which children purposely exclude others or create harmful rumors to destroy a peer’s reputation. Relational aggression can be direct or indirect. An example of direct aggression would be if one child says another cannot play with them unless the child does what the group says. Spreading rumors is an example of indirect aggression.
Whether it is direct or indirect, relational aggression is a serious problem and falls under the umbrella of bullying. It can be linked to various developmental and emotional issues later on in life.
Studies find that relational aggression tends to be more prominent in girls than boys, but all kids are at risk of being perpetrators or targets of relational aggression. Some examples of relational aggression can include:
- Gossiping or spreading rumors about a student.
- Purposely embarrassing a student.
- Telling other children to avoid a peer.
- Giving the silent treatment to a peer.
- Threatening to stop being friends with someone.
Sometimes relational aggression is not taken as seriously as other forms of bullying because it does not come with physical scars. However, it is extremely prevalent, with a whopping 49% of children reporting being the targets of bullying and 30% admitting to having bullied a peer. Relational bullying is the most common form of bullying.
Unfortunately, only about 20% of students who have been bullied have the courage to report it to an authority figure, like a parent or teacher. That means too many kids are experiencing relational aggression in silence.
How to Teach Children to Be Inclusive
As is the case with many issues, prevention is easier than finding the cure, and the same can be applied to inclusion for kids. Helping kids learn how to become confident in themselves and be brave enough to stand up for others may seem like giant tasks to undertake. However, they are much easier than you may think, especially if you approach them in smaller steps:
1. Reject the “In” Crowd
It is important to make sure kids understand the popular clique or “in” crowd isn’t necessarily the best crowd to be in. Instead, children should learn and practice moral traits like kindness and inclusion, even when they are in direct competition with what the popular group practices.
One good idea is to help kids remove their focus on material goods and shift it to personal traits instead. Instead of outfitting children with the latest gadgets or trendy clothes, encourage them to look at people beyond their clothes and belongings. This aspect is especially important since not all parents can afford to equip their kids with the newest and flashiest electronics.
Financial disparities among kids can encourage isolation. Shifting the focus helps them understand that having the latest material goods should not be a way to judge who is and is not worthy of inclusion.
2. Support Individuality
It may seem counterproductive to focus on individuality when discussing kids including others, but helping them understand it is okay to be different can play a big part in inclusion for children. Help kids understand that each person brings a unique benefit to the world regardless of their appearance, beliefs or personality. Recognizing that everyone is unique and different will make kids less likely to isolate others, especially based on their differences.
3. Reach Out
Sometimes not being a bully is not enough, which is why it is important to teach kids to reach out and include kids who may be left out. There are many inclusion activities for elementary students that can be effective, such as participating in playground games and reaching out to someone who has been rejected or is often alone. Helping children understand how to make their peers feel valued is an invaluable skill that can be carried on throughout their lives.
Challenging kids to find good things about others they complain about is one way to help them reach out and see people for more than what they seem. Another useful way to foster community among adolescents is to encourage kids to scan their surroundings and find others who seem to be alienated. Then, invite them to join in and help them feel included.
4. Learn About Intention
Because they are still learning the ups and downs of social interactions, children may exclude peers without intentional malice. For example, if a child is afraid of dogs and, for that reason, is not invited to a birthday party at the home of another child who has dogs as pets, it could make the first child feel alienated and isolated. Those feelings may arise even though the second child was intending to do a good thing by saving the first child from the discomfort of being around dogs.
Help kids understand the negative emotions that can arise from being excluded — regardless of intention — as well as the positive feelings that come from being included, even if the invitation cannot be accepted.
5. Empower Kids
While including kids is a great idea, it is also essential that children understand they are allowed to have boundaries to prioritize their well-being and comfort. If a child includes a classmate only to have that person become physically or verbally abusive, they are not obligated to deal with that behavior.
If friendships have become toxic or otherwise harmful, children should know they do not need to prioritize inclusion above their own safety and comfort. Help kids understand the fine line between being inclusive and enabling unhealthy behaviors.
Contact Playworld to Design or Upgrade Your Playground
Playgrounds are the ideal places for children to practice their social skills, including inclusivity. Regardless of where it is — schools, places of worship, community centers, daycares or other locations — playgrounds can bring together children from all backgrounds and help them develop the necessary social skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
At Playworld, we have been providing inclusive playground equipment and designing and building playgrounds since 1971. We are eager to share our experience and expertise to help you understand how to make your playground beneficial and more accessible for all community members.
Whether you are ready to get started on your new playground or just have questions about our products and services, we welcome all comments and inquiries. Fill out our contact form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.