Teaching Kids Tolerance and Empathy

Teaching Kids Tolerance and Empathy

Today, more than ever, kids interact with people of differing ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Classrooms are increasingly diverse, reflecting the communities where families live and work.

America is the great “melting pot,” a rich blend of cultural traditions from all over the world. Many American families can trace their histories to immigrant ancestors who traveled great distances, enduring risk and hardship, to make a home where they would be guaranteed basic freedoms. And for many American families these freedoms came with a struggle. Their enslaved parents and grandparents were denied the basic rights we value.

You can encourage your child to be kind and gentle and to make the concepts of diversity and acceptance more “real” and meaningful in many ways. As a parent, you are your child’s conduit to the world, so the way you interact with others is important. But a child also needs to understand her place in your family and something about her own culture and background. Then she can relate to others in her neighborhood, classroom, town, and eventually in the world. 

Using what your child already knows and loves — books, music, blocks, dolls, dress-up clothes, or other toys — is the easiest, most natural way to expand your child’s knowledge about her own family culture, as well as those that are different from hers. It can be as simple as introducing items and games from different cultures into your child’s play.

Some parents welcome the fact that we live in an increasingly diverse society. Others may feel more hesitant, especially if they haven’t had much exposure to people different from themselves. Many kids are way ahead of their parents regarding exposure to cultural differences. Their circle of friends, their schoolmates, and their athletic teams are much more varied than those of even a generation ago.

Teaching tolerance is important not just because it is part of our American heritage, but because the person who learns to be open to differences will have more opportunities in education, business, and many other aspects of life.

Tolerance means respecting and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds. Tolerance, in many ways, is the opposite of prejudice.

In short, your child’s success depends on it. Success in today’s world — and tomorrow’s — depends on being able to understand, appreciate, and work with others.

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