America is the great “melting pot,” a rich blend of cultural traditions from all over the world. It’s a country founded on freedom from religious persecution and on tolerance of differences in beliefs and cultural heritage. The differences that come from people from all over the world enrich our culture, bringing new ideas and energy.
Today, more than ever, kids interact with people of differing ethnicities, religions and cultures. Classrooms are increasingly diverse, reflecting the communities where families live and work.
That’s why teaching tolerance is a crucial lesson for kids. Not only is it important because diversity is part of our American heritage, but because the person who learns to be open to differences will have more opportunities in education, business and many other aspects of life.
In short, your child’s success depends on it. Success in today’s world — and tomorrow’s — depends on being able to understand, appreciate and work with others.
How parents can teach tolerance
Parents can teach tolerance by example. Even before they can speak, children closely watch — and imitate — their parents. Kids of all ages develop their own values, in great part, by mirroring the values and attitudes of those they care about.
When parents encourage a tolerant attitude in their children, talk about their values and model the behavior they would like to see by treating others well, kids will follow in their footsteps.
In addition, talking together about tolerance and respect helps kids learn more about the values you want them to have. Giving them opportunities to play and work with others is important, as well. This lets kids learn firsthand that everyone has something to contribute and to experience differences and similarities.
So, whatever holiday you will be celebrating this season, it’s a perfect opportunity to learn about others’ traditions and teach tolerance. Here are some things parents can do to teach their children about diversity and acceptance.
- Notice your own attitudes. Parents who want to help their kids value diversity can be sensitive to cultural stereotypes they may have learned and make an effort to correct them. Demonstrate an attitude of respect for others.
- Remember that kids are always listening. Be aware of the way you talk about people who are different from yourself. Do not make jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Although some of these might seem like harmless fun, they can undo attitudes of tolerance and respect.
- Select books, toys, music, art and videos carefully. Keep in mind the powerful effect the media and pop culture have on shaping attitudes.
- Point out and talk about unfair stereotypes that may be portrayed in media.
- Answer kids’ questions about differences honestly and respectfully. This teaches that it is acceptable to notice and discuss differences as long as it is done with respect.
- Acknowledge and respect differences within your own family. Demonstrate acceptance of your children’s differing abilities, interests and styles. Value the uniqueness of each member of your family.
- Remember that tolerance does not mean tolerating unacceptable behavior. It means that everyone deserves to be treated with respect — and should treat others with respect, as well.
- Help your children feel good about themselves. Kids who feel badly about themselves often treat others badly. Kids with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves and are more likely to treat others with respect, too. Help your child to feel accepted, respected and valued.
- Give kids opportunities to work and play with others who are different from them. When choosing a school, day camp or child-care facility for your child, find one with a diverse population.
- Learn together about holiday and religious celebrations that are not part of your own tradition.
- Honor your family’s traditions and teach them to your kids — and to someone outside the family who wants to learn about the diversity you have to offer.
Parents who demonstrate tolerance in their everyday lives send a powerful message. As a result, their kids learn to appreciate differences, too.
Of course, celebrating differences of others doesn’t mean giving up your own heritage. Your family may have its own longstanding cultural and religious traditions that are something to be proud of. Families can find ways to celebrate differences of others while continuing to honor and pass down their own cultural heritage.
© 2016. Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.