I STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT if we want to make the world a more understanding place, we need to start with children. They are the impressionable ones that are still forming their perceptions of the world, and it’s so important for them to have positive role models and good influences in their lives. Not just in reference to religious and racial differences, promoting tolerance applies to gender, physical/intellectual disabilities, size, shape, and everything in between.
1. Promote openness and respect by demonstrating empathy and compassion through your words and actions. Besides not letting your child bully or tease someone else, watch what you say yourself! Treat others with respect, and your child will, too. Even comments about your own body (I feel fat, my brown/red/blonde hair is so ugly) can lead a child to make judgments about people in the world around him or her.
2. Encourage self-confidence. A child who is confident about him/herself will be more likely to embrace differences and see the value in others.
Remember that kids are always listening!
3. Honor traditions and learn about others’ traditions. Celebrate your family’s traditions and explore other holiday and religious celebrations that are outside of your own traditions and comfort zone.
4. Give them experiences with diverse populations. Sign your child up for summer camp, a workshop, or child care with a diverse group of kids. In my school district, we have a peer model program in our special education preschool classes so that typically developing 4 year olds in the community have the opportunity to go to preschool with children with special needs. Both the typically developing and the children with special needs can learn acceptance.
5. Travel with your kids (or move to another state or country). Allowing your children to grow experience a new and different environment will at the very least broaden their worldview and help them understand that people around the world are different. For more on this, check out Karen Banes’ article about the educational value of long term travel with kids.
6. Talk about differences respectfully. Talk about the differences among your family and friends (hair color, skin color, personal likes and dislikes), and use the opportunity to talk about how it’s good that people are different. You could also discuss how people are the same as well (i.e. you have blonde hair and your friend has brown hair, but you are both girls and you both have two eyes, two ears, one mouth, etc.).
7. Respond to children’s questions, even if you don’t have a “good” answer. Kids can ask hard questions, but your silence can teach a child that it’s not okay to talk about differences or “uncomfortable” topics. Even if you don’t know what to say, tell him or her that you will get back to them later with an answer. And be sure that you do.
Tolerance4kids.com – Informational site for parents and caregivers.
Tolerance.org – Teaching Tolerance is focused on reducing prejudice and creating tolerance in school. They were founded in 1991 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and provide free materials to teachers in the U.S. and abroad. Many of the resources are good for parents as well.
Do you have any suggestions for teaching children tolerance and acceptance?
Why bother teaching tolerance? Because the 21st century still isn’t free of prejudice and discrimination – just read Julie Schiwetart-Collazo’s article, A “White’s-Only” Pool in 2009