In today’s world, it’s all too easy to look at people and notice their differences. Kids, especially, are wired to notice what others look like, what they’re wearing, their demeanor, or what they’re doing. Similarly, they’re quick to observe how much someone is like them or how they are different.
This tendency within young brains to spot differences in others is a good thing, as it helps children find a sense of belonging, form their own social circles, and learn from the people around them. However, differences can often be divisive or exclusionary if not handled well, while there are some differences children need to develop the habit of looking past, if they want to see others the way God sees them.
Let’s look at the four differences parents should teach their kids to look past to love people the way Jesus would.
1. Teach Kids to Not Care About Physical Appearances.
First, it’s important for kids to know how to look past physical appearances. All people look different — whether it’s hair, skin, and eye color, height, weight, and size, or the clothing we wear. Our physical appearance is just one way that makes us unique, so help kids to appreciate those differences.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, “…man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” How someone looks does not directly relate to qualities that are far more important in a good friend, like being kind, caring, and truthful. Don’t allow kids to pick on someone because of their looks — that’s just wrong. Similarly, watch how you talk about the appearances of others, or even about your own appearance, in front of your child. Do you instantly judge someone because of the way they look, or talk badly about yourself? Your children will emulate your own behavior, so teach them to see others the way God sees them: for their heart.
2. Teach Kids to Respect Differences of Opinion.
Second, it’s important for kids to know how to look past disagreements. All kids (and adults!) don’t act or react the same way. They have different likes and dislikes, different beliefs and values, and different upbringings. These differences can lead to frustration and arguments, but kids need to learn that it’s okay to disagree. It’s good to talk about disagreements, respect different opinions, and try to work through problems with one another. But arguing and fighting are not productive. Help kids to develop the habit of being a peacemaker with their friends and the people around them.
This is not to say that all personal beliefs, behaviors, or opinions are true — as parents, we don’t want to encourage our kids to approve of bad behavior or accept lies as truth. But they can and should learn to look past those disagreements to love the people around them, even those who are living in a way that doesn’t please God.
3. Teach Kids to Look Past Disagreements and Hurts.
While looking past differences of opinion or arguments is important, some kids have a problem with anger, bullying, or lying. Perhaps they are a constant annoyance to others and to your child. These types of disagreements can be much more difficult to deal with, but still just as vital to teach your child how to look past these differences and see the heart.
Help kids understand where bad behavior comes from and that all people are born sinners, wanting to go their own way and not God’s way. Some kids have been taught right from wrong, but others may be living in a very difficult situation of abuse or neglect. Some kids may simply need a friend who will care or someone who will love them. Still others may also need special intervention or help from an adult. Encourage kids to share if someone is hurting them or if they know someone who is in trouble. Depending on the situation, help them talk with appropriate authorities about any serious problems. Explain to kids that helping others get the help they need is a way of showing love.
In all situations, take time to brainstorm practical ways kids can show love — even to those they may not like. Teach them to look for something positive that they can complement them on, or be aware of another child’s hurt or isolation and invite them to join in on an activity. Help them to remember God’s love for the person, and to pray for them to learn about Jesus and come to follow Him. When kids feel anger, impatience, or frustration, teach them to ask God to change their own heart to feel compassion and love instead.
4. Teach Kids to Value Different Strengths and Weaknesses.
Fourth, it’s important for kids to know how to look past others’ strengths and weaknesses. Kids can easily idolize others who do something well. They may respond by making that kid out to be better than everyone else, or they may become jealous and wish they were the one who was that good at a certain skill. Help kids to recognize that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, that all are equally as important, and that it’s simply a part of what makes them unique.
Rather than pointing out someone’s weaknesses or making a big deal over someone’s strengths, help kids appreciate the different gifts and abilities others have, while also celebrating their own. Point out God’s creativity in giving people different gifts that they can use to serve Him in different ways, and remind kids that their gifts are just that: gifts given by God, not something that comes from their own strength.
It doesn’t matter if a person looks different, disagrees with your choices, has different abilities, if you’ve known them your whole life, or if you’ve never actually met them at all — God has created every person in His image and He loves them immensely! You can teach kids to not let differences get in the way of loving others the way Jesus loves them.
To God, every person was individually worth dying for. He didn’t first look at whether their skin was a certain shade, if they were “good enough”, or if they could do something spectacular. His immediate response was, and is, love. Teach your kids to do the same. And remember, the best thing you can do as a parent is lead by example!