Teaching Tolerance to Children
Being born and raised in Canada, I have grown up in a culture of tolerance and am aware that there are many types of people in our society. We are surrounded by differences in ethnicities, cultures and races, genders and levels of ability. Nothing really phases me. People are who they are.
But not everyone feels this sense of ease. Our sense of comfort largely depends on our level of exposure to people who are different from ourselves. The more we are around differences, the more we learn to appreciate instead of fear them.
I am so proud to live in a city that is so open to diversity. One that not only is open to it, but one that embraces it. Since the mass shooting that took place in a gay nightclub in Orlando several weeks ago, celebrating diversity, for me anyway, has become that much more significant.
I have always been amazed by the enormity of the celebration that takes place for Pride in Toronto. But this year blew me away. Seeing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marching at the Pride Parade this past weekend spoke volumes about the feelings of inclusiveness that we all want to see being spread around the country.
So why do we need to encourage tolerance in our children?
We want our children to grow up to be open to learning from different cultures, or from people who are different from them. I truly believe that learning tolerance and inclusiveness starts at home.
Parents need to model the behaviour they would like to see in their children. Children who grow up hearing racist or homophobic comments will learn that it’s ok to make them. After all, if Mom and Dad say it, it must be ok. Right? Wrong. Children need to be brought up understanding that the world is made of a lot of different types of people. And no one type is better than an other.
So how can parents help instil tolerance in their children?
#1 – Parents should examine their own behaviour, and evaluate whether or not they feel they are sending the right message to their children. Parents need to be mindful that children pick up on cues, body language, and subtle messages. Are our messages respectful? Are we being inclusive? Are we modeling the type of behaviours and attitudes that we wish to see in our children?
#2 – Children are inquisitive. They notice the differences between people and it’s ok to discuss these differences, as long as it is done in a factual way.
In our home, we are constantly discussing the differences between types of people, our backgrounds and our beliefs. Our family alone is comprised of many different cultural and racial backgrounds. And I love that my children are exposed to these differences, and realize that we all love and we are all the same, regardless of what we look like or where we come from.
#3 – Parents need to teach their children about pride in who they are, while teaching them to recognize that people come in all different forms, colours, shapes and sizes. Similarly, all people have the right to choose who they want to love. And there is no one right way to love, or one type of person that is more worthy of love than another.
#4 – We need to understand that if our children are happy, and are being raised in a home where they feel accepted for being themselves, they are much more likely to adopt the same open-mindedness toward others.
Unfortunately, far too many people in this world are not tolerant of others who are different from them. Whether the differences are racial, religious or political or are differences in sexual orientation or identification, this world is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds with diverse beliefs. We need to celebrate these differences instead of judging them, and we must teach our children to do the same.
By teaching our children to love and respect others who are different from them, we are simultaneously conveying the same message that we too, will love them and accept them regardless of whom they choose to love.
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