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Tips for Welcoming Those Who Appear to be Different From Us
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, September 2014

It's "back to school" time! Let's remember that every child and every family deserves and is entitled to the best education possible.

Some children enter school more challenged than others. Due to such influences as genetics, illnesses, environmental toxins, complications during pregnancy or birth, accidents, or abuse, these kids and their parents walk the same path as everyone else but in their own unique way. The uniqueness may be with a learning style, the way they process information, the manner in which they walk, roll, see, or hear, but whatever their challenge, there is a way to address it so their learning and opportunities for socialization and feeling good about who they are can be maximized.

As we begin the school year, whether as parents, teachers, or neighbors, we can be conscious of others and be aware of the messages we send by the ways we choose to interact with all children and their families.

We can keep close to our hearts the phase "random act of kindness" and commit to making that less random and more inclusive.

Tips to guide you and your children as they return to school include:

Avoid Making Others Feel Invisible. - It is common and natural for people to look at others who are "different" from what they're used to seeing. Kids do it all the time and often, their parents yank their arms with an admonishment of "don't stare." Too late! We are all curious. If you look, just follow up with a smile and a warm hello. No one wants to be invisible especially after it is obvious that we have been noticed (and likely assessed or judged). Although we may appear different we are, in fact, the same in that we all have similar hopes, aspirations, dreams, and need to belong.

Make the Effort to Get to Know Everyone. - It is essential for all children and their parents to feel part of a welcoming community. We can be a part of a community that is interested in getting to know us as individuals and looks beyond what appears to separate us. We all want people to focus on our strengths and to be known and accepted as we are. Nobody wants to be labeled negatively or ostracized. Few things hurt quite as much.

Do Something Different from the Way You Usually Do Things. - We can reach out to people who may be out of our familiar circle and emphasize to our children the value of every human being. Because something about someone is unfamiliar it does not make it bad; it just makes it unfamiliar -- until we find out more and then, hopefully, feel more at ease within ourselves. When we do this, we will likely put others at ease as well.

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