Marisa LaValette, the founder of Happy Hungry Journey, promotes an inclusive environment in her yoga and cooking retreats for women and girls of all ages. She is well-equipped to cultivate connections within a group, thanks to her experience as a middle school teacher. Here she shares her top strategies for teaching inclusivity to young girls.
When I first launched Happy Hungry Journey, providing summer retreats for preteen and teen girls, I over-analyzed every pose I would teach in my yoga sessions and stressed over each ingredient in my recipes. But when I followed up with the girls and their moms, the feedback never had anything to do with the yoga classes or cooking experiences. Girls reported that they bonded with friends, both old and new, while their mothers told me how glad they were to see their daughters forge new relationships and strengthen old ones. I thought I was teaching asana and plant-based recipes to girls, which was ostensibly what I did, but they came away with something else. They gained confidence as they engaged in new activities under the watchful eye of a teacher insisting upon inclusivity.
The more time that goes by, I am most focused on how children feel during various lessons. The activities themselves, though worthwhile, are merely vehicles for teaching girls about community and citizenship. At the end of the day, we realize that all of our activities are just that — scenarios to reveal our capacity to support one another and thrive together. Creating an inclusive environment is the first step toward creating a productive learning environment.
Teach inclusivity by leading by example to get your daughter on a track where she’ll thrive in a supportive community. Model inclusivity for your daughter by participating alongside her in these activities. Soon your daughter will model the same habits to those around her.
1. Teach Empathy Through Service to Others
The first step to learning how to be inclusive is to learn how it feels to be excluded. It has never been more important to teach your daughter about empathy; that is, the ability to imagine oneself in another’s shoes. Introduce your daughter to groups at risk of marginalization — volunteer together at an elderly care center or tutor children with learning differences in underfunded schools. Prepare and deliver meals to people who can’t leave their homes, or organize a fun birthday party for kids living in homeless shelters. Admirable national community service opportunities include: Girls on the Run, National Charity League, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, We, Nature Conservancy, The Humane Society. Discuss with your daughter what she learned from her interactions while helping others feel included.
2. Be Her Role Model: Upstander, Not Bystander
Through your actions, teach your daughter to be an upstander — a girl who is always on the lookout for others, even during her regular daily schedule. Show your daughter the conscientious effort required to draw people together. At your neighborhood block party, NCL meeting, or Girl Scout picnic, let your daughter see you approach other women and introduce yourself. A more subtle tactic for introverts is to offer to help set up for a group meal and ask others to pitch in alongside you. It is less challenging than walking up to a new group but still does the trick to get people involved! Whether overtly or more subtly, empower your daughter to be a connector within any group and show her that inclusion is an active, and not a passive, process.
3. Beware Technology: Model Real-Time Interactions
Your daughter notices the time you spend on your social media accounts. If you’re glued to your phone for hours on end, she’ll model your behavior and spend time managing her relationships online. Instead, let your daughter observe you engaging with your friends in face-to-face, real-time interactions. Host a mother-daughter lunch where no phones or other devices are allowed. Enforce electronics-free times at home, such as dinner and right before bed, a favorite social media time for adolescents. By modeling a commitment to authentic conversations with your friends, you’ll teach your daughter to avoid the social media trap where “friendship” often exists online more than it does in person.
4. Journal Challenges
Set up time for journaling with your daughter, and decide on weekly challenges such as:
- Introduce yourself to 3 new friends this week
- Choose a time each day to be on the lookout for anyone being left out (recess, cafeteria, on the bus to games/matches). Take it one step further and make an effort to improve what you see. Invite someone to play a group game at recess or invite the new girl to have lunch with you and your friends
- Brainstorm mother-daughter gatherings to promote inclusivity through health and wellness activities
Most importantly, remember that you need to hold yourself to the journal challenges, too!
5. Cultivate Community Commitment to Inclusivity
Invite your child’s entire sports team, including the parents, to a gathering at your home. Include the coach in your planning to ensure that you are not missing anyone. Offer activities such as a group yoga session, cooking lesson, or vision board party. If time permits for all three activities, girls can support each other in partner yoga poses, chop healthy ingredients side-by-side in the kitchen, and create vision boards together depicting the kind of inclusive team they want to be. Bear in mind that girls will do exactly what you model— make sure you offer all the parents the opportunity to share in the planning and be sure to socialize with everyone during your event. Help facilitate inclusivity by encouraging the girls to work with different partners for each activity. (Email email@example.com for help planning this kind of event!)
As a yoga teacher and classroom teacher, I strive to remind students of all ages about the fundamental truth that all beings are interconnected. Therefore, our natural job is to promote inclusion everywhere we can and remedy exclusion whenever we see it. Ultimately, remind your daughter that the way we treat others is a reflection of how we feel we deserve to be treated. When we include everyone, we have the opportunity to share our unique gifts with each other.
Get more of Marisa’s positive messages, healthy lifestyle inspiration, and recipes on her website.