By Katie Parsons for GalTime.com
When 10-year-old Colin told his mom not to bother planning him a birthday party because he has no friends, his mom decided to prove him wrong. She created the Facebook page "Happy Birthday Colin" for her son who has Asperger's Syndrome.
So far, 1.2 million strangers worldwide have "liked" the page and left him birthday wishes in advance of Colin's March 9th birthday. The support is so great, people are now mailing cards to Colin and his mom is saving them for his actual birthday . Shhh, it's a surprise!
The need for the campaign is heartbreaking, although the outpouring of support is heartwarming. It all begs the question: How can parents empower their kids to reach out to other kids who feel like "outsiders" like Colin?
How We Can Empower Our Kids to Reach Out to 'Different' Peers
Dr. Robyn Silverman, child and teen development specialist and a mother of two, says it all boils down to leading by example: "If you want your children to diversify their friendships, you need to make that a priority in your own life and the lives of your children," she said. She suggests that parents:
1. Seek out diverse family friendships
Instead of choosing family relationships by default factors like attending the same school or living in the same neighborhood, Dr. Silverman suggests that parents act more proactively. "You need to expose your children to different types of people and to see the value in friendships with kids with disabilities," she said.
"Open your home and your doors to those kids, or bring your children to an area with children different from them, maybe with disabilities to foster those connections."
Parents should keep in mind that in cases of children with autism spectrum challenges, it may take some extra effort and different approaches to make socialization happen. If your child is scared because of the unpredictable nature of another, reassure him or her with the reassurance that you and the other parent are standing by to step in if needed.
2. Allow, and answer, questions
Understand that your own children may have valid questions regarding the behavior of other kids and be open to answering those as honestly as possible.
3. Look for teachable moments
Use different behavior among children at school or out in public as a teaching moment. "Understanding where behavior is coming from goes a long way toward understanding it," said Dr. Silverman. Talking about the actions of children that your own kids may not fully comprehend can help with developing a comfort level and empathy.
4. Be a strong role model
If you want your children to have diversified friendships and reach out to kids who are different than they are, you must model that yourself. "What do your own friendship circles look like? Reaching out to other families or organizations in your area shows your children that it is a priority to you," said Dr. Silverman. There is weight in the proverb that actions speak louder than words -- particularly when small eyes are watching.
"Character education does not happen by osmosis," said Dr. Silverman. "Having compassion for other people starts with questions and talking about it. This builds perspective, empathy and compassion that your children can then use when you are not looking."
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