How can you help your children learn to deal with people as unique individuals, not as stereotypes? First, encourage them to talk with your friends, to say hello to most people with whom they come in contact, to make a variety of acquaintances, to play with a wide variety of children. Talk with them about people you know or have heard about. Learning about people begins with exposure to as many people as possible, even objectionable people at times.
As a parent, you help your children interact and talk with the people with whom they come in contact. They learn the most about people when they tell you about themselves, their interests and experiences. When your child talks about his friends, you might ask him to tell you what is interesting about them, to give examples of interesting places the friends have been, things they like to do, and so on. This helps them to think about people's unique and positive qualities, as well as their negative characteristics.
When you introduce your child to someone, you might tell the other person something you find interesting about your child: "This is Sally; she has been working on a science project." When you introduce one of your friends to your child, you might say, "This is Ann Smith. She is interested in ceramics." Similarly, you might encourage your child to do the same. When he introduces one of his friends, you might say, "It is nice to meet you," and (turning to your child) ask "Can you tell me something interesting about Billy so I will know him a little better?"
Learning about situations follows the same principles as learning about people. The greater the variety of situations with which your child is familiar, the better prepared he is to effectively handle himself. If you encourage a wide range of situational experiences, your child is better prepared to function socially. In addition, talk about situations you have been involved in, and encourage your child to do the same. Your child learns about similarities and differences within situations, things he likes or dislikes, appropriate and inappropriate ways to behave. Even more importantly, he develops awareness of what is unique in each situation. Examples: After a friend has left, mother says to her toddler, "I noticed you and Julio had a lot of fun and did not get into any arguments." your adolescent talks briefly with a friend but does not introduce him to you. You say, "I was surprised you did not introduce your friend to me." Specific situations and incidents come up all the time. You and your child should occasionally look at these situations and add your understanding and experience to his knowledge about situations.
You likely have questions about whether or not your children should be exposed to specific situations. Letís consider a few of these. Should your children be taken to funerals? Yes, especially if the deceased was close to your child, because death and funerals are important situations in which your children need to know how to behave. Should your children be taken to weddings? Yes. Weddings present a good opportunity to talk about marriage, and love relationships. Should your children be taken to hospitals? Yes, if they are old enough to understand what is happening and if it is possible. They may get uneasy, but these are parts of life about which your children need to learn. When you protect your children from normal life situations, you are neglecting opportunities where you can talk about the situation and deal with their feelings.