Given events in the news over the past several weeks, parents have been asking me what they can do to ensure that their children grow up with tolerance and an appreciation of diversity in others. Let me provide an unbiased look at this important topic.
Tolerance occurs when one appreciates with openness and respects the differences that exist in all of us. It means learning from each other to create new bonds of friendship and understanding.
Children can be way ahead of parents in regard to exposure to cultural differences based on their friends, classmates and teammates. It’s very possible that there is much more diversity in our children’s lives than we as parents and grandparents had growing up.
So how do you teach tolerance to your children?
Step one is to be a role model for your children. Exemplify tolerance so children learn from you how to appreciate differences in others. Talk with your children about the fact that biases do exist, but also stress the importance of eliminating those biases through valuing tolerance and respect. Ask your children how they would feel if they were excluded from a game because of how they looked or dressed.
Be aware of how you talk about others different from yourself, since your children are always listening. Select books, toys, music and watch videos that celebrate rather than make fun of others. When biases are demonstrated in a book, movie, song or on TV, point out the problem with those biases rather than accept them as the norm. Point out the differences of each member of your own family and note how those differences are a strength that together makes your family even more diverse, inclusive and valued.
Remind your older children that tolerance does not mean tolerating behaviors that are not acceptable, such as bullying, lying, stealing or using drugs or alcohol.
Finally, don’t forget to focus on your child’s own strengths to promote their self-esteem. If they feel good about themselves, they are less threated by the differences in others and can help others with those differences find their strengths as well.
Hopefully tips like these will bias you in the right direction when it comes to recognizing the important role parents and grandparents can play in teaching children about tolerance.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.