“The highest result of education is tolerance.” – Helen Keller
Raising my kids to be tolerant beings is of the utmost important in our house. I am a millennial. I’m a young(ish) working mom swimming in the ocean that is corporate America. I’ll always be a special education teacher at heart. I was raised in a household that valued diversity in all forms. My family made being tolerant of others an expected and organic part of my value system. Despite my own beliefs in recognizing the importance of building a culture of tolerance, navigating that is challenging. I have a particular in-law relative who continues to show me the harsh reality that intolerance is still a large part of many households in today’s world.
It is my responsibility as a parent, to chart the course my children will follow as they build their character. Raising tolerant kids means being thoughtful. It is my charge to instill empathy, openness, and respect for others despite disagreement or difference. How they treat their future co-worker, romantic partner, pet, or wait staff at a restaurant is shaped by the world I build for them and the interactions they witness on a daily basis. The weight of this responsibility grows each year as they age and it not something that happens without intention. This intention comes me from me, and also the village I choose to surround my children.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be An Advocate For Change
Do not be afraid to advocate for the culture you are building with your children. I have an in-law family member who chooses to communicate their intolerant and abusive views through “jokes” and negative comments, regardless of being asked otherwise. While it is within her power to believe and behave however she chooses, it is within my power to choose whether that person spends time in my house around my children. It is my choice whether that person becomes a prominent and central role model to my young daughters given the staples of this individual’s character. I am open and clear about the tolerance we are building in our house. If our friends or family are not on board they do not need to be present.
Ask Questions And Encourage Conversations
Allow questions and engaging conversation about differences in people or thought. Children naturally question their entire world, and especially when seeing something for the first time like my two-year old. Instead of always answering from your own experience or addressing their curiosity quietly, encourage them to introduce themselves to the other person and ask their questions directly. If we show fear towards things that are different, our children will too. Put aside your own experience and allow them to build theirs by asking questions to those that can best answer them.
Diverse thought and innovation comes from the opportunity to create. Ensure that your kids have opportunities to interact with and learn from people from all backgrounds and styles. This could be through pre-school, sports, summer camps, or even where you choose to live as you raise your littles. When my husband and I settled into our forever home, we chose to live in a city different than our hometown. While there are many reasons this was the best choice for us, the diverse opportunities and people present here that were not available to us where we grew up are part of that decision. If the area you live in has limited opportunities to experience diversity, create it! I recommend using a program like Little Passports. These monthly boxes bring experience and culture to life for kiddos and can present an opportunity to see things from a different point of view.
Model Tolerance In Everyday Life
I was a special education teacher for many years, as was my husband. Tolerance is a pillar within my value system, but I have a special place in my heart for the group of people that walk among us with disabilities, hidden or otherwise. We make a point to talk with our kids about differences in other people. We talk about how all (ALL) people should be treated. While we may fall short sometimes with always modeling kindness to one another, we know how important it is to walk the talk when it comes to respecting people in their world.
Among the many seeds I am planting with my littles, tolerance is one that I tend to frequently. I am selective with the role models in their life, and cognizant of the modeling my own behavior. I feel privileged to have a hand in raising the kind of people I wish to be in the future. Hopefully I can add a little more sunshine to this world through the has of my children.
All the best,