Tolerance seems to be in short supply now-a-days. Everybody seems to be at odds with everybody else and rather than accept the differences that occur among people, there is animosity and fear. Whether it is politics or religion, life style choices or child rearing methods - people see it as their right to express their views, often as negatively as possible, regardless of how others might feel. Whatever happened to “Live and let live”? A healthy debate promotes understanding, but for that, one must be receptive to ideas that are contrary to one’s own.
Here are a few suggestions made by Helene Goldnadel that might help you raise a child who is understanding and tolerant.
1) Monitor Your Words and Actions - All of us, even the most liberal minded, have prejudices that make us think, say and do things that we later regret. Human beings are social animals; we tend to think in terms of us and them - it describes our affiliations, the groups we pledge allegiance to and the way we see ourselves. This can be very helpful when we are in unfamiliar surroundings or when we need help and wish to speak to someone who understands our points of reference. The problem arises when we feel either that our ways are the only ones worth following or if we consciously exclude all others on the basis of their perceived unsuitability. Children are very sensitive to the emotions underlying our words and actions, so we must always be careful that we do not impart our own biases through what we say and do.
2) Introduce Your Child to Different Cultures - While it is always preferable to visit different places to experience firsthand their customs and lifestyle, it may not always be possible to do so. But that should in no way prevent us from having a pretty good idea of the differing cultures that make up this world that we live in. Make full use of the TV, books, magazines, particularly those in public libraries, visit ethnic restaurants and even areas in your city where a preponderance of people from a specific country live, to kick start an interest in your child about other cultures. Show an interest in the customs of people you meet at work. Most people are happy to share information if you show a sincere desire to learn more about them and if you are not intrusive or judgmental.
3) Read about and Discuss Various Beliefs and Customs - With the amount of information floating around the internet, the excuse of not knowing about a subject because you don’t know where to find out more about it really does not hold water. Teaching your child to understand the ways of people from a different background than himself will help him to develop empathy and teach him to stand up for those who find it hard to speak for themselves. Open and frank discussion not only helps clarify doubts and misconceptions, it enables the parents to have a better understanding of what their child actually thinks and the values he is likely to subscribe to as an adult.
4) Volunteer at a Charity Organization - Children learn through imitation and a strong commitment to working with and helping weaker sections of your community sends a powerful message that people needing help should not be looked down upon. Rather, many of them can be helped, if more people gave of their time, skills and resources. Even though most of us lead very busy lives, an undertaking of a couple of hours a fortnight or even a month, will teach your child to concern himself with others less fortunate than he is. The joy of selfless giving is one of the best lessons any parent can teach their children, provided they do not feel that they come second to others and are not forced into it before they are emotionally ready.
5) Keep the Lines of Communication Open - Children should learn early in life not to prejudge people on the basis of the acts of a few in their midst. This can happen only if parents talk to their children, emphasizing a readiness to listen and accept views different from their own and have the patience to explain why a certain viewpoint is flawed. Depending on the age, these discussions should be geared more to guiding the child’s reasoning powers than to browbeat him/her into accepting the parent’s views. It should not come as a surprise if you find that your child does not embrace your ideas into. The aim here is to guide and develop your child’s value system, not create clones of yourself. If you approach this particular aspect of parenting with sensitivity and respect for your child, there is no reason why he/she will not learn to do the same with those whose ideas are in conflict with his/her own. That after all is the basis of tolerance.
In an increasingly multicultural society, it is natural for a child to wonder about the differing mores and customs that he/she sees practiced all around him. Acceptance of the existence of attitudes, beliefs and conventions that are at variance with their own certainly does not mean that children have to abandon their own individual cultures and values. Instead such tolerance would enrich and expand their own life experiences, thereby making them truly global citizens.