Children have their own styles and habits of welcoming. Like adults, some are outgoing among circles of friends and family, and even strangers. Trust can come naturally to some when they see how adults generally warm up to an enthusiastic greeting. Other children are shy and turn away from a friendly face. You’ve seen little children turn to bury their faces in the legs, laps or shoulders of their caretakers or parents; some teens lower their heads and mumble “hello” to elders they don’t know well. Being welcoming is a skill you can work on with your child.
For shy children, I love the Red Grammar song “Say Hi”. It came about to help children reach out to those around them in safe ways. Here’s the link to the song and Red putting it in context. Looking someone in the eye and simply saying “hi” is one way to welcome.
Most children, even shy children, are naturally empathetic. They want everyone to feel at home in their groups on Sunday morning. But how can they help with that?
One activity from our Tapestry of Faith Program suggests role playing with the children. To really welcome someone, you need to be open to who they are – their whole selves -without making assumptions. Ask your child to think about how a visiting child might be different from them. Maybe a new child is really missing their parents, or maybe they have a different way of speaking or even speak a different language. Maybe they have trouble using scissors. Maybe even an older child can’t read the chalice lighting words. What could they do to make each of these people feel welcome? Sometimes we think of some people as having special needs. But we all have special needs at some time or other. Babies need to be cared for. Some people need hearing aids as they grow older or become unsteady on their feet. Anyone can find themselves needing crutches or a wheelchair for at least a while. Many of us have been new here and didn’t know what to do on a Sunday morning or where to go.
As I learned in my experience working with Junior High youth this summer at Star Island, some people of color feel uncomfortable in mainly white communities. How can we all create a community that welcomes everyone? Here’s where the adults come in. And it happens through persistent, ongoing work. And it generally comes in small steps. We can make our spaces show inclusivity; read stories where the main character is a person of color, whether the plot of the story is about race or not – because so very often, children are exposed to images and stories, including many good and valuable stories, where white is the norm and that is not named. There are lots of reading lists out there focused on race and identity for children, youth, and families. Here’s a link from Lee and Low Books . There is also a list for book list for children in 3rd-6th grade and other material for children, youth and adults with the TeachIn resources at the Black Lives of UU website. We can look for music and movies with UU values done by artists from many backgrounds – for example, this video I love from Sanctuaries DC, “Love Reaches Out”
When we welcome new people, we keep learning. Parker Palmer, a leader in spirituality and social change, has said that when we welcome the stranger, we hear new messages and learn new possibilities. Our natural tendency is to fear the other, but generally we don’t need to feel afraid and when we overcome some of our fears, we feel more at home in the world. So the welcoming is a spiritual practice that benefits each of us.
From Marge Piercy’s poem, The Low Road
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
How do you teach your children to be welcoming?
in joyful service,