Let’s Talk About Kids and Inclusion

kids and inclusion

Let’s be honest: for a parent, a morning at the park with the kids isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

I know my fellow moms and dads will feel me when I say, it’s work to bring little kids to the park. It’s rarely the case that we are just sitting and relaxing, watching them from afar.

And it was during a recent (sweltering… hello Florida) playground morning that something happened that really got me thinking about kids and inclusion.

Call it helicopter parenting, or just the simple fact that I don’t want my 2-year-old face-planting into the mulch from the monkey bars. But I tend to be alert and pretty hands-on at the park. At this stage–with a 6-, 4- and 2-year-old–I kinda have to be.

Specifically, how hard do we push our kids to include others, even when it’s against their wishes?

Here’s the scenario:

My son and his friend, who arrived together, were playing. After they got going, running around, I noticed another boy around their age standing nearby who seemed to want to be included.

Let me be clear. My son and his friend were not excluding this boy in any way. They had been playing together when the boy approached, and it seemed to me that they didn’t notice him behind them.

So I told my son–loudly and from across the park–to include everyone when he’s playing. And he did. He and his friend made space for the boy to hop in on the carousel they were pushing, and all was fine.

Here’s the thing. I want to teach my kids to be aware of who is on the outside, either literally or figuratively. I want them to be the includers, the connectors. Also, I want them to be okay with going out of their way to make someone else feel better.

So they did. And that lasted for a while.

Then, as kids tend to do, my son and his friend got distracted, and the boy went back to play with his own sibling.

But that didn’t stop me from going back to my son again; this time more quietly, and asking him on two more occasions to approach the boy and ask him to play with them.

I didn’t notice the other boy showing any signs of his feelings being hurt. but I know personally the feeling of being excluded. And I don’t want any child–mine or another–to feel that way.

All that being said, it made me wonder:

When is too much when it comes to forcing our kids to do include everyone, all the time, in their play groups?

If my son and his friend listened–which they did–by including the boy, why did I keep going back and insisting on him doing it again and again, even when everyone seemed perfectly happy?

When does all this pestering on my part cross the line from being considerate of others, to being inconsiderate of what my own child wants to do?

I’m certain I could find a thousand articles supporting each side; one saying to force your kids to include everyone, all the time, no matter what; and the other, saying that as long as your child is being kind, to respect his decision to choose his own company.

I’m not sure what’s right for everyone. But for my kids, for now, they will get three nudges to include everyone, no matter what, and then? Then they get to decide their own actions, and deal with their own consequences.

Now you tell me:

Do you have any hard and fast rules when it comes to kids and inclusion? I’d love to hear how you approach this tricky situation.


If you like this post about “kids and inclusion”, also, check out Ep 13: It’s Not Impossible to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy! Podcast with Dr. Julia Nordgren.

2 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Kids and Inclusion”

  1. Rebekah Pierce

    As the mother of 4, ages 8-19… I think it’s important to teach kids to be aware of those around them and look for outliers…. but part of social development is learning how to integrate yourself into a group. As long as you’re teaching your kids to include others and to be open to new friends, I think learning to navigate social inclusion is part of growing up. Sometimes I think that the insistence that everyone is included all the time can lead to resentment on different sides and I have seen that cause problems as my kids have gone into junior high and high school.

  2. Hi Rebekah! Thanks for weighing in… All of that is great advice. And I think you’re right–there’s a sweet spot to hit when it comes to making our kids aware of others’ feelings, without completely neglecting their own. It’s a balance I’m trying to manage, and I love hearing from other parents and what’s worked for them.

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