Children are not born understanding that people are different; they learn this as they grow. As they become more aware of how and why others are different from them, they can be taught to respect these differences, or not. Tolerance is a learned character trait that helps a person accept others regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, gender identity, social orientation, ability etc. Parents are their child’s first tolerance teacher. What do your words and actions teach your child about respecting and accepting people who are different?
Consider the following when nurturing tolerance in your child:
1. Tolerance stems from respect. Parents who raise a child of character know the importance of teaching respect to their children – respect for self, property, and other people. Using manners, picking up a mess you make, following rules are basic respectful behaviors children are taught early on. Tolerance is taught when parents focus on teaching their children how to treat others justly, with dignity, and respectfully regardless of their differences.
2. Tolerance equals acceptance but not agreement. Being tolerant of other people, regardless of their differences, does not mean one needs to agree with someone’s belief system that differs from their own. Showing tolerance means you don’t judge other’s actions based on their different attributes, but based on their character. It means accepting a person for who they are, understanding their differences may lead them to look, speak, or act differently, and appreciating their differences contribute to a world bigger than just one person.
3. Tolerance lessons: To nurture tolerance in children start young and continue to develop your child’s respect of others as they grow.
- Young children: Point out similarities and differences between people. Stick to the basics: skin tone, gender, eye color, height, hair color, age. This lays the foundation for children to understand people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
- School-age children: Expose children to different cultures, religions, and ethnic traditions. Learning about customs and heritage around holiday times or by visiting a museum is a powerful way to teach children how those who are different from them have contributed to our world. Educating your child on how and why people are different eases anxiety and appeases their curiosity when they are around people who are different.
- Adolescents: Help your teen learn how to stand up to intolerance. Have them share situations they witness when their peers are being mean or disrespectful to others who are different. Talk about what their choices are when they see someone being ostracized and help them choose the moral thing to do. Encourage your child to be the role model of tolerance by being friendly to those who are being victimized because of their differences. Role play social situations to help them gain the confidence which is needed to stand up to intolerance.
As our newsfeed continues to draw our attention to more and more stories of intolerance, now may be a good time to consider how you can raise a child of character who exemplifies tolerance by treating those who are different with respect, justice, and kindness. Our children will see the world through our eyes and actions. The most powerful way to teach tolerance is to show them how through our own actions and words. So, grab a mirror and let the lessons begin.
What can you do today to help your children learn to be sensitive to those who are different from them?