Children are not born hating certain people, situations, or issues, but they can easily pick up on the intolerance shown by influential people in their lives. It is very important to learn the best ways for teaching your kids tolerance, before they learn the opposite. It is far easier to teach tolerance than to unlearn intolerance! Here are some helpful ways to teach kids how to deal with differences in others.
Do not be intolerant. They will mimic what they see in you, as parent or primary caregiver, so watching what you do is the most important tip of all. It can be hard to tolerate the opinions, ideas, thoughts, and lifestyles of everyone that you meet, but there is nothing that says you have to agree. You just have to be willing to be tolerant, which means not openly voicing your disagreement, especially in a hateful way.
Teach them how to “agree to disagree.” This means that they can express their disagreement in a kind, tolerant manner. If we were all the same, the world would be a boring place. Let kids know that they are welcome to voice how they believe or what they think nicely, making sure not to frown upon what others are expressing. This is a great way to teach tolerance at the same time.
Expose them to other cultures early. When you let them see other cultures and lifestyles from an early age, they will be far more tolerant of people who are different. This does not mean exposing them to potentially dangerous situations, such as taking them to the Middle East on vacation while there is a travel warning, but there is nothing wrong with having friends who are from entirely different cultures than your family. Most major cities have areas devoted to different cultures, like Chinatown for instance, and this makes it very easy to show them something different.
Let them make up their own minds. It is very tempting to try to convince your children to believe like you do, and this is a very common event in households all over the world. In fact, handing belief systems from one generation to the next is the norm for almost every culture, but with it can come some negative beliefs that should not be passed to our kids. Instead, teach them what you believe but make sure that they understand that there are other ways to believe.
Do not just let them make friends with people who believe like your family. We often discourage our children from making friends with children who are of different faiths, ethnicities, or with different family dynamics. Our society is such a melting pot of cultures that it is not uncommon to see four or more religions represented in the same classroom, not to mention ethnicities or sexual orientations. Let them make friends with people who will be true friends, not based on any other factor.
Be willing to be open-minded. Adults tend to be more stubborn about what people they will be friends with, and this strictness trickles down to the children, teaching them that there is nothing wrong with excluding people based on criteria that the potential friend often cannot control. It may be a little awkward at first, but be willing to be open-minded about who your child is friends with, even if it means expanding your own horizons a bit. The only friendships that you should discourage are those that lead to dangerous situations.
Do not make up your child’s mind for him! This is another very important tip. Feelings get hurt in friendships sometimes, but do not use this as a way to discourage an otherwise healthy relationship. We may start out open-minded, but at the first opportunity try to discourage the friendship subtly to avoid problems that we do not want to deal with. Wounded feelings heal, and this is an important part of growing up and maturing. Encourage the relationships that last a lifetime, even if they are not with people that you would have chosen for your child.
In addition to being a staff writer for rangehoodhq.com, a site with advice and reviews on range hoods, Melanie Wymer is also a work at home mom of four active children ranging in age from two to eight years old. Tips are based on her own life experiences growing up in different cultures and making friends that were unique in each.