To honor Black History Month, it is important to recognize that although our society has made strides towards equality, there is still work to be done. As children enter social settings such as daycares and schools, they begin to gain perspective on their place in the world, including what unites them with their peers and what makes them different from each other.
As our world continues to drastically evolve and even shrink thanks to technology, exposure to new people and cultures is becoming an everyday occurrence for our children. Teaching tolerance early to the leaders of tomorrow is more important now than it ever was.
Below are five ways to promote tolerance in children
- Teach Love First
Children with high self-esteem are more likely to have high esteem for others. By teaching your child what it means to be loved and to give love, you instill in them self-confidence which teaches them that they are valued and respected and that others deserve to feel the same. Utilize the Nurtured Heart Approach to celebrate your child often for simply being themselves. Praise and give fuel to their positive energy when you “catch” them displaying love to others. Set clear rules that hate and intolerance will not be permitted, and define the consequences that will be swiftly executed if the rules are broken without a grand show of emotion.
- Embrace Culture
Celebrate your child’s heritage and culture, and teach your child to be proud of where they come from. Fostering a sense of appreciation for their own culture can help children to understand and respect the pride another child or individual feels about their own unique culture. Help your child understand the importance of history – their own and others – and ensure that their schools are doing the same. Learning to value what makes cultures different and what about all cultures is similar will expose children early to the essence of humanitarianism.
- Be aware of not only what you say, but also how you say it
One research study published in Child Development found that generalized statements about groups of people can influence children as young as two years old, whether positive or negative. Even statements like “girls can be anything they want,” can teach a child that certain characteristics can predict who or what a person will become. Another research study found that even hearing blanket statements about a category of people like “Zarpies whisper when they talk,” can result in children sharing less with children of that group. Be careful to avoid any generalized statement about groups of people, and teach your child that every human is unique and characteristics of individuals do not define destinies.
- Expose children to different languages early
A recent study from the University of Chicago found that “children who heard multiple languages in their neighborhoods were more receptive to people who spoke languages other than their parents’ languages.” Hire a babysitter who looks different than you, take your child to a doctor who is bilingual, or seek out a diverse playgroup in your neighborhood. The study reports that children are influenced by all people they come in contact with, from store cashiers to diner waitresses, and early exposure to diversity can foster open minds.
- Set the best example yourself
Children learn first through imitation and even before they can walk and talk, they are absorbing their parents’ every move. Remember that your child is always listening and be conscious of the words and language you use to describe people who are different from you. Display empathy, preach compassion, and teach acceptance for the endless combinations of ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, and religious identities humans are capable of, and those of our youngest generation will grow to become the embodiment of love.