6 Ways to Raise a Tolerant Kid

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Parents can have significant impact on how their kids react to people from different cultures and backgrounds. Teaching tolerance is an ongoing process as kids develop and have new experiences. Learn how to help nurture acceptance and a sense of equality in your little one.

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By Lucy Rector Flippu

Parents can have a profound influence over how their kids react to different cultures and ethnicities. Teaching tolerance is an ongoing process as kids develop and have new experiences. Parents have the ability to nurture acceptance in children by recognizing that “usually right underneath an intolerance is a little vulnerable area where they are frightened or scared or misinformed,” says Patty Wipfler, founding director of Hand in Hand, a nonprofit parent leadership institute. These six practices can help you establish an open dialogue with your child.

Do a Self-Checkup

Before you can teach tolerance, you have to do an honest self-checkup and reflect on any prejudices you may have. Look behind that occasional racist joke that slips out, or those stereotypical associations that come to mind when you think of a certain group of people. Chances are, you'll find a few biases that could use a reality check. Once you've resolved these, you'll be in a position to help your child develop her own sense of equality and empathy.

Encourage Curiosity

"When I went to Shari's house after school she told me that she can't eat pork. Why is that?" When it comes to kids, curiosity is par for the course. What makes the difference is how you handle it. Teach your kid from an early age to ask questions rather than judge when he sees something that looks different or encounters a practice he doesn't understand. Support a free-thinking mindset and let him form his own opinions by answering with facts that aren't colored by your judgments.

Accept (and Celebrate) Differences

Equality doesn't mean that everyone is the same, and tolerance doesn't mean pretending like people aren't different. Be honest with your kid about the qualities that make different people and groups unique. Physical characteristics, like skin color, are just one small difference. Talk to her about different religions, holidays, and other traditions to help her see how cool it is to learn about other cultures and be part of a diverse world.

Expose Your Child to Variety

Your child won't have a chance to get comfortable with cultural differences if he never experiences them. Expose him to food, languages, and festivals from a variety of cultures. When possible, enroll him in a school or other activities that include a mix of children from various races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Address Prejudicial Language

If you hear your child label someone or make a prejudiced remark, address it right away. Ask, "What do you think your words mean?" She may think saying something like "that's gay" when she means "that's stupid" is harmless because her intention isn't to put down the gay community, so help her understand why it's not okay. Have her do an empathy exercise and articulate how the offending comment might make others feel. Listen to see if she's using that kind of language to hide a deeper fear.

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Read Diverse Literature

There is a wealth of children's literature that addresses multicultural and tolerance themes, and reading a book is the great way to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. For the younger kids, try Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, The Cow That Went OINK by Bernard Most, or The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss. Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl's Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard or William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow are good choices for slightly older kids. Use these books as springboards for conversation, discussing the characters, art, and other customs that are presented.

Ultimately, overcoming prejudice requires that we experience our surroundings with an open mind, compassion, and an extended hand. Your kid will look to you for guidance. Prejudice isn’t inherent, it’s learned. And so is tolerance.

Looking for ways to celebrate different cultures with your kid? Check out these activities.

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