Intolerance is a thread that weaves its way through human relations until it is broken by those who can look into each otherís 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.
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