As children are going back-to school tolerance is more important than ever. They are getting to know their teacher(s), meeting new friends and classmates, it is natural for children to notice the many differences in others. It is vital for parents to help children realize it is okay to be different.
Intolerance is a thread that weaves its way through human relations until it is broken by those who can look into each other’s hearts without prejudice and fear. Our race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, culture, politics, economic standing, where we live, how we dress, what we eat and much more can elicit the antipathy of those who are intolerant of people who appear different from them or conduct their lives differently. The lives destroyed and people whose happiness and well-being have been stolen by acts of intolerance number in the countless millions.
“Both research and experience with young children indicate that children notice differences in people from a surprisingly early age,” early childhood consultant and author Anne Stonehouse notes in her article, Helping Children Learn Tolerance. “Whether it is skin colour (sic), voices, hair texture, size, or other aspects of appearance, they note them, try to understand and experience them, and sooner or later accept them.”
Many people would contend that the seeds of intolerance are sown in children either for the reasons noted above or, equally important, because they were never taught to be tolerant by those who care for them.
If children are never taught or influenced to be intolerant, the chances are, Stonehouse and others would argue, they learn to accept people who are different from them. However, children who are exposed to prejudice and are never taught to be accepting of others certainly are at great risk of growing up to be intolerant.
The cultures of virtually all societies throughout history provide ample evidence of people learning intolerance at a young age, through the influence of parents, older siblings or relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc.
A lack of emotional self-management and understanding our own feelings also can breed intolerance. Too often, adults and children deflect taking responsibility for feelings of hurt or disappointment by judging and blaming others. This perpetuates intolerance and even hate. Teaching children tolerance starts with adult modeling emotional responsibility and tolerance for others. Teaching children tools and skills for emotional self-management, compassion and understanding of others is the next step. Tolerance is a sensitive subject that parents need to discuss honestly and openly with their children.
7 Simple Tips for Building Tolerance in Children
1. Explain to your children simply that we all live in the same world and it is important to try to get along with people regardless of how they look and what they believe. Remind them that they, too, are different from children in other countries, and maybe different from some children in their own neighborhood and school. Ask them to describe differences without judgment. Then ask them to describe where they are same. Perhaps in the heart we are all the same.
2. Ask your children how they want to be treated and whether it is fair to treat others differently than that.
3. Explain that rather than being fearful or critical of people who are different from us, we should be happy we are not all the same and that it is fun to learn about diversity of people around the world.
4. When your children or teens do things that indicate a lack of tolerance, share with them special tools (see links below) that are scientifically developed to help them release anger and manage their emotions. This will help them see others through new eyes and a coherent heart.
5. Have a conversation with your children about not blaming all people of a particular nation, ethnic group, religion, etc. for the cruel acts of a few from the same group.
6. Talk to older children and teens about compassion – caring about others and what they may be feeling and going through.
7. Encourage your children not to be afraid of friendships with children who, although they may look, speak or dress differently, seem to be nice and respectful of others.
Here are some tools you can teach your children that were designed to help them deal with hurt, anger and other emotions. Click the links for written and audio versions of each:
- Shift & Shine® ages 3-6 helps young ones develop positive emotions, control impulsive behavior and learn the joyful qualities of the heart.
- The HeartShift™ Tool for ages 7-11 can help children calm down and think more clearly. It teaches them how they can feel better when they are upset and how to shift from a negative emotion to a positive one.
- Quick Coherence® for ages 12-18 can provide fast relief from negative emotions. It can be used before or during test-taking and other academic tasks to strengthen relationships with girlfriends, boyfriends, friends and family or for a boost of energy.
- Helping Children Manage Stress – In this informative webinar, behavioral and developmental pediatrician Dr. Timothy Culbert, and facilitator Jeff Goelitz, an education specialist with the Institute of HeartMath, discuss the many stressors children experience today and offer strategies parents, educators and other care providers can use to help children enjoy happier and more stress-free lives. (You must sign in at www.heartmath.org to view this webinar and certain other presentations. If you’re not already registered, it is free and takes only a couple of minutes.)
We can each look for places where we can add more tolerance. Tolerance is a core heart value, desired by millions whose greatest hopes are happy and meaningful lives for themselves and their families and to be accepted without prejudice for who and what they are.