By Cindy Jett, LICSW
Teaching your child tolerance makes moral sense, as well as economic sense. In this era of rapid globalization, it is likely that your child will grow up to interact and do business with people from vastly different cultures from different corners of the world. Helping children adapt to different peoples and cultures with genuine respect and comfort will likely expand their opportunities and success in life. Tolerance is not simply “tolerating” differences among people, but refers to a broad respect and appreciation. The following strategies will teach your child to value difference, rather than fear it.
1. It is OK to talk about differences.
Tolerance is not about pretending everybody is the same. Teach your child that it is OK to recognize and discuss differences. People have different beliefs, look differently, and have different customs. These differences aren’t good or bad, per se, they are simply different. Curiosity is fine as long it is accompanied by an attitude of respect and not judgment.
2. Expose your child to diversity.
Perhaps the best way to develop an appreciation of diversity is through exposure. Exposure to others teaches the anxious child not to fear differences. Whether it is through school, an extracurricular activity or travel, encourage your child to interact with different kinds of people, and be positive about cross cultural friendships.
3. Bear witness to the commonalities of the human condition.
People from all cultures have families, care for children, work hard, and exhibit kindness and loyalty to their loved ones. So while people vary tremendously in terms of beliefs, culture and traditions there is an underlying humanity which unites us all. Look for points of connection on this deeper level, and discuss them with your children.
4. Get to Know Individuals
Reject stereotypes and get to know people from other cultures as individuals. Recognize the tremendous variation within a culture, and don’t be presumptuous about what people are like or what they value. Let the individual show you who they are, just as you would with someone within your own culture.
5. Educate yourself and your children.
Learn about other cultures, lifestyles, and religions. This can be done through travel, movies, books and food, or simply by having your culturally different neighbors to dinner.
6. Model tolerance.
Long before you introduce your child to the concept of tolerance, he will have been observing your interactions with the world. Do you stick with your own kind or do you interact with and befriend people from diverse backgrounds? Do you demonstrate fear or reticence around people who look differently, have a different religion, or different sexual orientation? Do you get to know people for who they are, and reject stereotypes?
Cindy Jett, LICSW is a psychotherapist and author of Harry the Happy Caterpillar Grows, an acclaimed picture book that helps children adapt to change. Visit her at Harrythehappycaterpillar.com.