LIKE other social problems, acceptance is arguably a sticky issue that can cause problems. Children are born as a blank slate. At the same time as some children with additional needs may be in the minority, all the children should be able to grow up accepting one another. It has been observed that young children readily accept diversity. They don’t know any difference from kids with which they have grown up, so why question it? In some cases, though, children can also learn prejudices from their parents, media or public influencers. Therefore, as practitioners, we have to teach children to accept and tolerate one another, no matter what their physical and emotional needs and strengths may be. Inclusion in early year’s settings and schools is a topic which has been widely discussed. One major bonus of inclusion is the opportunity for children to mix up with others having some differences. Throughout their early years and schooling phase, a child is likely to meet others having a wide range of divergent abilities and needs. All the children need to be trained about identifying their individuality, as well as others, by accepting the fact that everyone has a distinct identity and beauty. Everyone, being different, is the beauty of society. If we were all alike, it would be boring.
Humans are like doughnuts, we look different but all are the same and most of us will agree with this statement. But we may also have feelings, at some point in time, that there are some common traits. It may be fear, greed, jealousy and anger etc. One person might have a fear of heights; others might have a fear of losing their parents, friends or people they care about. The one common thing is FEAR. As an individual, all the people are different, but one thing which is common in all of us is human feelings. It is for something or the other, but it is common for all of them. In today’s globalized world, it’s more important than ever to raise children who respect diversity and accept others who are different from them. It is the need of 21st-century education to help children develop their self-identity, they should also be learning about acceptance of themselves and others—that each of us is alike and each of us is different, and that we are all valuable in our way. Parents and teachers can convey this message of acceptance by highlighting how children are alike and different from their peers. We, being guardians and mentors, need to guide children to identify and understand the richness in their diversity. Help children understand how they are different and alike—in skin colour, body size and shape, hairstyles or textures, home languages, clothing, food, holidays and so on.
Involve children to express their thoughts and ideas about differences through planned conversations using pictures, questions or books. Show diverse cultures, languages and traditions; girls or boys or men and women in non-traditional roles; or differently-abled children and adults demonstrating strengths and abilities. Make them explore universal themes with images of children of different cultures and backgrounds. Give children the appropriate language to talk about differences in a respectful way. When children make hurtful or insensitive comments about others, the model language that acknowledges the difference openly and honestly while deflecting negative connotations. For example, when a child asks, “why does Khalid have a weird arm?” Respond, everyone has differences in their bodies and Khalid has a different arm. It’s not okay to say that Khalid has a weird arm because that hurts his feelings. It is okay to say that Khalid has a different arm.
We should respond to expressions of dislike or bias immediately with positive, kind, and explanatory language. For example, ‘Yes, Urooj wears glasses. She is lucky because she can see better when she has them on.’ Or, ‘Jameela knows the words of that Punjabi song. Let’s ask her to teach us the words she knows.’ When a hurtful statement is made, do not confront the child who said it to make him or her feel uncomfortable. Gently correct the statement. The child will learn more appropriate ways to express his or her opinions or observations. In general, be it a mother-daughter relationship or a father and son duo or even best friends, we should respect and appreciate each other’s feelings. Yes, we all are so busy in our day-to-day activities that we do not get time for other things, but maybe because of that, we are missing out on some of the important things which this world is trying to tell us.
God is the creator of this universe along with each and everything; even humans are created by Him. But we forget that out of all the creations, one of the best creations is “Humans” and the only thing which makes us different from all other creations is our ability to think, speak and express our feelings. In today’s time, we are forgetting that all humans are the same when we talk about feelings. We think that only our feelings are more important and forget to care about others feelings when we exploit them. Instead of making the earth a better place, we are making it another hell by not respecting or understanding each other’s feelings. Everyone is busy fighting to be on top in their respective fields. But at what cost? Maybe at the cost of people whom we love the most. We have seen many successful people, but if we ask their family, they all will have complaints like “they don’t have any feelings” or “they don’t have any idea that how much we miss them or when we need them the most,” and “they just don’t have time to spend with us.” Is this the direction where we are going in the name of progress and transformation? There are no feelings left, the one thing which makes all the humans similar to each other and if that is not appreciated or acknowledged, then we are not different from all the other creatures of God. So, before it’s too late, start acknowledging feelings of the people who matter most to you and start making a difference in their lives.
—The writer is Lahore-based educationist and a freelance writer.