What Is Tolerance?
"What is tolerance?" - I asked my 9 year old daughter the other day. She answered without any delay, Tolerance is how long you are able to stand something that annoys you. I asked her for an example, and she said promptly, You, Mama, have very low tolerance for messy rooms.
I laughed, but this conversation made me think of how often we use the word tolerance when we talk about our interactions with someone who is different from us. In essence, we are saying to our kids, They (whoever it is who is not "us") are annoying, but we can learn to stand them if we have to deal with them. I really think that it's time to move beyond tolerance when we teach our kids about difference and try to encourage other emotions and thoughts.
How Do You Approach People Who Are Different?
So here is how I want to teach my daughter to think and act when she has a chance to meet someone who is markedly different from her in skin color, language, dress, ability, or interests.
1. Teach Acceptance
I want my daughter to understand that we are blessed to live in a society where different opinions are welcomed and people are not being persecuted for their beliefs. I want her to be able to accept people with different backgrounds as her equals in work and play. I hope that she bases her relationships on people's character traits and not on the food they eat or the dress they wear.
2. Teach Open Mindedness
Open minded people approach differences as opportunities to learn something new. I really love talking to my co-workers about customs and traditions in their countries of birth, because they are often so very different from my own. Even though our family is non-religious, we are trying to introduce our daughter to different religious beliefs and religious rituals. We always encourage her to ask people directly and politely about their dress, their assistive devices or other noticeable differences. I don't think it's wrong for kids to display curiosity about these things, it's us who want sometimes to be so politically correct that we deny our children a natural way to satisfy their interest.
3. Teach Kindness
It's easy to shift into fear or avoidance when we are faced with someone whose living circumstances are very different from ours. Personally, I always struggle what to tell my daughter about panhandlers that we sometimes see near stores as I do not believe in handing over money to people who choose to live that way. We ask them if they need anything from the store and, strangely enough, they usually do not want food. We do not miss an opportunity to give to local charities through food drives, clothes drives, and monetary donations, but I admit I always feel like we can do more. I stress this to my daughter:
How do you teach kids about differences?
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