I adore the movie Mean Girls. With an almost infinite number of (memorized) quips I can drop on the daily, spending yet another couple of hours with Regina George and gang feels like reaching for my all-time favorite jeans. A familiar go-to with guaranteed comic relief and further opportunity to fangirl Tina Fey. When it popped up as a streaming option on Amazon Prime I almost threw a party.

But as much as I live for Damian Leigh (14 years later, I’m still crossing fingers for his spinoff), when real-life “girl drama” showed up on my doorstep—and WAY earlier than I ever expected—wearing pink on Wednesday became the last thing on my mind.

Welcome to true parenting, I grumbled to myself. After coming to grips with the reality that I, in fact, WOULD have to deal with this before middle school, I then had to figure out how to address both the second grade Plastic and preschool Janis Ian under my roof.

If there is one thing that completely unravels me, it is a lack of inclusivity. I simply cannot handle (or stand for) people intentionally being excluded or left out. Especially children. I think that once you’re on the receiving end of this cruelty, you become destined to wholeheartedly fight against it. Even decades later.

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So when you hear from a fellow mom that your oldest daughter has said some pretty terrible things to her close friend, and the next day watch your youngest get flat-out rejected by her classmates on the playground (with you standing there), the fire starts raging pretty quickly.

Where did we go wrong? When did we lose our inherent sense of kindness and compassion? How have our four- and eight-year-olds already learned the cold art of rejection? I don’t know these answers, but I do know I have the power to re-influence my kids’ approach toward the world. It is my responsibility as their mother as well as commitment to Christ for His entrusting them to my care.

Pretty minor stuff here, right? I know—it feels daunting to me, too. To help myself cultivate an environment intentionally focused on empathizing with others and treating them tenderly, I knew I’d need to outline some concrete steps. Here are the actions I am taking to hopefully reshape my crew’s care for not only the world around them, but also their own precious selves.

Surround them with kids and people who are not just like them
For this first gem I have to credit a fabulous marriage and family therapist who offered a parenting workshop at our church. I had asked about squashing clique-ish behavior early on (it was just starting to rear its ugly head at the time), and this was her excellent advice. Writing different appearances and personalities, family traditions and life experiences into our children’s stories, broadens their perspective and gives them an appreciation for diversity.

Open their eyes to reality so they can be “the hands and feet of Jesus”
The world is so incredibly broken, but offers us unlimited opportunities to bring our kids alongside in caring for the hurting and marginalized. Whether it be collecting needed supplies for a local women’s shelter, carrying extra packaged food to share with the homeless and hungry, or adopting a family during the holidays—these moments of serving strangers can reveal a much deeper purpose for their lives.

Introduce a “kindness journal” to boost their daily emotional IQ
My oldest shares my love of writing, drawing, and collecting colored pens and whimsical paper goods. I know the concept of “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies to my own life (which is why I have to continually check my daily to-do list), so I thought a “kindness journal” might be a fun way for her to keep the idea of being a good friend top-of-mind. One side of the page is dedicated to listing ways to show concern and generosity, the other reserved for capturing key examples of kindness she observes herself. Plus she is able to engage her creative side in decorating it to her liking (read: an insane number of emojis), and then have a wonderful new initiative to share with her friends and get them also excited about spreading love throughout the day.

Model it ourselves
There are plenty of things I wish my kids did not pick up from me—choice words yelled at fellow drivers, embarrassingly low patience levels, and well-honed procrastination skills. But as much as I would love to erase these lovely attributes from their developing minds, they are always watching. And in this particular case, it is critical they see their mom striving to embrace the underdog. Knowing that the example I’m setting is now more important than ever, also keeps me accountable. Perhaps I need my own kindness journal!

Lindsay Ryan

As a mother of three (under 9, eek!) working full-time in a very masculine field, I fuel my need to create—and accessorize!—by writing about my addiction to statement jewelry and Chewy Chips Ahoy, what parenting today “really” feels like, the immeasurable amount of Grace the Lord has bestowed on me, and continually learning to trust Him with love and loss, grief and joy.