5 Ways to Teach Tolerance to Your Kids
December 18, 2019
Teaching your children to be open to new perspectives and respectful to anyone they encounter will set them up for success.
Parents worry. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to making the right choices for your child: school, homework, sports, friends…
There’s only so much worry to go around. It’s understandable then that many parents don’t give much thought to intolerance (unless, of course, their child is the victim of it). This can be especially true in communities with little diversity, where issues like racism rarely arise publicly.
Tolerance is a key component of being a good human being and of sensitively interacting with people from different backgrounds. Kids need to learn it somewhere. But how does one “teach" tolerance, anyway?
Here are five ways you can start:
Reading lets us inhabit different cultures, different points of view, and different life experiences we might not encounter in our daily lives. And while this may sound like a hoity-toity push for turning off the television, modern neuroscience is backing up what many have known all along.
Keith Oatley, professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, proposed recently that reading produces a simulation of reality in a reader’s brain. A simulation that the brain doesn’t, apparently, distinguish from reality.
Fiction, Oatley acknowledges, is particularly powerful, as it allows the reader to experience the world through the eyes of another. And what, exactly, is tolerance if not walking in another person’s shoes?
Another study by Emanuele Castano showed that readers of literary-fiction novels showed an improvement in understanding others’ feelings.
The best way to encourage your child to read is to be a reader yourself. Demonstrate to your children that you value reading; take regular trips to your local library and subscribe to magazines and newspapers. As you read books with her, discuss the character’s feelings and choices in a way that encourages your child to put herself in the character’s shoes.
If you’re looking for books to start with, you can check out the Tolerance Center’s book list or ask your local librarian or your child’s teacher for suggestions.
2. Learn Another Language
Learning a second language is one of the best ways to encounter another culture. Something as simple as grasping that Spanish utilizes masculine and feminine word endings — which do not exist in English — makes one aware that other people view the world differently than you do.
Learning another language is almost always accompanied by learning about that language’s history and culture, another important factor in learning tolerance.
Most important of all, however, learning new languages allows your children to communicate with more people. One of the most effective ways to break down barriers between races is to give them the tools to communicate with each other. This starts with language.
For younger children, you can research whether your school district is implementing second-language programs in elementary school. At home, you can use child-friendly videos and games like Muzzy or Little Pim.
For older children, you can learn a second language at home with programs like Rosetta Stone or with phone apps like Duolingo.
3. Role Models and Heroes
It wasn’t that long ago that people hung portraits of prominent men and women in places of honor in their homes. Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Ghandi, and Jesus Christ adorned many mantles across America.
Today, this sort of reverence seems old-fashioned, but the sentiment remains an important one. All of us, but kids especially, need role models.
Real life role models (parents, teachers, pastors, etc.) are undoubtedly the most important to a child’s development. But we should not underestimate the value of selecting historical figures as models of behavior.
In America, sports figures and movie stars receive most of the attention. While undoubtedly talented, most of these individuals (though not all) are unconcerned with being role models to their adoring fans.
Don’t knock the role models your kids already adore. Instead, open the door to other possibilities by discussing with your kids your own heroes. Explaining to your children what traits you find admirable in others is a powerful way to communicate what values you respect and what traits you deem important.
Remember that the source of intolerance, prejudice, and hatred is almost always ignorance and the fear that accompanies it. The simplest and most effective way to combat ignorance is education, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Combat intolerance by exposing your children to other people. Most parents do this already by involving their kids in sports, after school activities, clubs, and camps in the summer. All of these serve to introduce children to people and ideas they haven’t encountered before. But don’t be afraid to expose your kids to categories people often overlook. There is little challenge in introducing your kids to the elderly through local programs at hospitals and nursing homes, the homeless through food banks and homeless shelters, and abject poverty through religious outreach and charity programs.
The Internet, too, while it comes with its own dangers, can connect you and your children to individuals all over the world.
Check out apps such as 20DayStranger, created by the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values, for a modern way of opening the world to your children.
5. Teach Patience
Intolerance arises when we lack the patience to stop and view the world from another’s point of view. This can be true on all sides, even when we respond to another’s intolerant viewpoints.
We live in a world that has no patience for being patient. It’s a go-go-go world of instantaneous communication. There are certain advantages to this lifestyle, and the technological tools that shape our world can do great good.
Unfortunately, it rarely promotes slow, deliberate, patient thinking. But it is just this kind of thinking that is the bedrock of tolerance.
The best way to teach tolerance is by modeling this behavior to your children. Giving your child your full attention when she is talking to you, or explaining to your child why you can’t fill a request she has immediately are good places to start. Take a look at this article for some advice on teaching patience to all ages.
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