Children, at very young ages, are often exceptionally aware and honest about differences they observe between themselves and others, but rarely attach judgments to those candid observations. We adults are the ones that do that. You may have heard a parent in the grocery store shushing their three-year-old who says, “Mommy, that man is very big!” or “Daddy, that girl has pink hair!” These observations are often expressed in form of a question like, “Why does that man have such dark skin?” “Why does that lady wear that long robe?” “Why is that boy in a wheel chair?”
These are perfect opportunities to teach the core social value of tolerance. What we do and say in these crucial moments can help to mend wounds and bridge chasms between different people that have been incurable in the past. Being willing to put off the awkwardness and to talk openly and honestly with our children about their questions is just the tip of the iceberg of how we can teach them tolerance and understanding.
People are different… Isn’t it wonderful!
Learning to recognize common ground can be uniting, but learning to recognize and accept differences can be just as endearing. Tolerance is not just a buzzword exploited by the media in today’s society. It is a core social value of America. America has been labeled “the great melting pot,” because of its tendency to bring people of all races, religions, and ideals into one place. It is a place of diversity, and therefore a place for tolerance.
Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Tolerance is the key to increasing understanding and decreasing fear in our next generation, our children. Tolerance is acceptance, openness, and respect for differences. But how do parents promote this healthy appreciation and respect for these differences that make us so great?
6 ways parents can foster tolerance:
- Teach them love first.
Be an example of loving others despite and because of their differences. Seek to help others, even if they are different than you.
- Know your own values and biases.
No one is without biases or values of their own. It is important to evaluate our own personal beliefs, values, and differences we struggle to tolerate. Seek to understand those things more completely.
- Expose children to differences. Teach them they don’t have to agree to respect others.
The best way to increase understanding is to jump in. Libraries and bookstores can take a parent and child all over the world and back to their home in an afternoon. It’s important to allow our children to explore the world and all its varieties of people, cultures, and views. This can allow a child to see your appreciation and respect for others while still allowing you to express your own views, values, and culture. It is important to note that it is not necessary to agree with or adopt all the differences we come to understand, but that we can always respect others for holding those values.
- Challenge stereotypes.
We do not live in a perfectly tolerant world, and there are many stereotypes and prejudices that are held and perpetuated in media, as well as in our interactions with others. It is important not to participate in jokes or other practices that foster stereotypes and degrade others. If we encounter such intolerance, parents can assertively tell their children, “That’s not true. Why don’t we learn a little more about that to better understand what is true.”
- Challenge yourself.
It’s easy to see things through our own personal lens. When others challenge our views or culture, it is easy to become defensive, which shuts us off to learning. It’s important to challenge personal defensiveness, and seek to see others’ point of view. Ask questions and listen before responding. Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. When children see this, they adopt this quality themselves.
- Foster your child’s self-esteem.
When children feel good about themselves, they don’t feel threatened by the differences of others. Children who are secure about themselves are more comfortable exploring and debating opposing views.
Question: How do you foster tolerance in your children and family?
P.S. A Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
We celebrate this wonderful dream today. Has the dream been fully realized? This vision of the world, held by Dr. King was one of kindness, love, hope and joy! It is the revelation of tolerance. Tolerance is not the disregard or ignorance of differences, but rather the application of kindness, respect and love in the face of diversity.
Martin Luther King Jr. also said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” We are the realization of a dream from years past. May we continue this dream in the reverie of tolerance, peace and love.
Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”