Tolerance: Why It Is Important And How You Can Teach It To Your Child

Is it difficult for your child to embrace and accept differences? Perhaps it's time you taught him how to give up his intolerant behaviour and be more open-minded with others.

By Ashwin Lobo

Tolerance: Why It Is Important And How You Can Teach It To Your Child

Being tolerant and able to adjust with diverse situations in life is an extremely important life skill. Whether it is about getting along with family members or peers, tolerance plays a critical role in forming and maintaining relationships. Tolerance also helps us deal with difficult feelings and adversities, makes us more accepting of others and helps us embrace differences. All these play an important role in helping us move ahead in our personal and professional life.

Children and tolerance — a reality check

Although children aren't intolerant, most of them find it difficult to understand and respect differences. And, as they grow up and get exposed to various biases and prejudices of parents and other family members, children gradually become less willing to accept any discordance. 

Children who are pampered or spoilt, struggle to adapt or adjust as they are used to their parents bending the rules to make them happy. Similarly, children of overprotective children also find it difficult accommodate once they leave the protective shell of their home, as the real world is so different from what they are used to. This reality is likely to come as a rude shock to such children.

Therefore, it is necessary to foster and nurture tolerance in children from a young age.

How to teach children to be tolerant

With societies around the world coming closer, teaching how to be tolerant and respectful of the beliefs of others should top the list of what we need to teach our children. This will also go a long way towards curbing incidents of teasing, shaming, bullying, racism and homophobia.

But, do you know what makes children learn tolerance?

Dr Michele Borba in her article, '10 Ways to Nurture Tolerance to Reduce Bullying', published on her website, says, "Children who grow to become tolerant are generally raised in families where there are three conditions: strong parental love and warmth, consistent discipline and clear models of moral behavior. It's when those needs are not met that prejudice develops."

So, now that you know the critical role parents and family members play in teaching tolerance, here is how you can inculcate this virtue in your child:

1. Set a good example: It is well known that parents are a child's first teachers. And, you cannot expect your child to practise tolerance if she observes that you are intolerant — be it in interactions with her or with others. So, take some time off to think about how you behave with your child or in her presence. Also, reflect on how you answer your child's questions about differences. For example, what do you say when your child asks, 'Why does that person look different from us?' or 'Are children with a fair complexion better than other kids?'

2. Challenge stereotypes: The world we live in is rife with stereotypes and biases relating to caste, gender, religion, nationality and much more. Unconsciously, we also influence our children into believing in these stereotypes by emphasising them. For example, the notion that women are bad drivers has no scientific basis. Yet, a few of us believe in it and never tire of running down women drivers, even in front of our children. If you hear a friend or family member indulging in such stereotyping, especially around your child, take a firm stance. Explain with facts why that stand is wrong. This will help your child develop a more respectful and tolerant outlook towards others around him.

3. Teach 'differences can coexist': Tolerance begins at home. Give your child a glimpse of how all the members of your family love each other and live together despite differences. For example, suppose you prefer oranges, but your child likes apples. You both can eat your preferred fruit without imposing your preferences on each other. Using this as a starting point, show your child that differences don’t have to be divisive but instead, need to be tolerated. 

4. Promote inclusivity: The more you expose your child to diversities and differences, the better he will learn to accept them and adapt to them. Some of the things you can do to promote inclusivity is to talk to your child about various cultures and customs. So, invite your neighbour over to your home for a get-together or attend cultural events of different ethnicities.

5. Boost self-esteem: Individuals who feel good about themselves are less likely to feel threatened or disappointed by others. They are more accepting of the limitations of others, and willing to forgive themselves and others for any inadvertent transgressions. A healthy sense of self-esteem also prompts an individual to interact more with others and open up to those around her.

6. Regulate media intake: Not only do children learn by observing their parents, they also pick up just as much from the books they read and what they see on visual media. Reading books and watching programmes that portray or glorify intolerant actions can push your child to be disrespectful towards those different from her. So, as a parent, monitor what your child reads and watches.

Teaching tolerance is about helping your child realise that, while diversity makes the world a beautiful place, lack of acceptance can create discord and disharmony. At the same time, while you teach your child to be tolerant, also encourage him to reflect deeply on all issues. Otherwise, your child may end up showing tolerance even for practices that are questionable.

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