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Tolerance is usually talked about in terms of religion and ethnicity. In a wider sense it means having respect for others who are different from you, whether it is in intellect, gender or physical abilities. Your attitude should be such that you can embrace people who are not the same as you, hold different views or dress differently. Tolerance means discovering common ground so that you are able to respect cultural differences, valuing and learning from them. In this way new bonds will be created between diverse groups.

However, you cannot close your eyes to unacceptable behaviour or strive to tolerate anything that goes against the basic human values or rules society has defined. Tolerance means accepting people in all their diversity, for who they are but you cannot vouch for their bad behaviour. Hurting others by being mean to them or lying or stealing cannot and should not be tolerated. ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ should be the golden rule.

Teaching tolerance to children is important

Every family has its own cultural heritage and traditions – be they religious or those of a particular ethnic group. The older family members passed these on to the younger ones as together they honour and celebrate them. Children see that the people who live in their community celebrate many different festivals. Colleagues and friends of their parents may be different from themselves. They observe that their parents respect these differences and they too learn to do so.

Even before the children learn to express themselves, they keenly observe and imitate their parents. This is the way nature has devised for infants to learn. As they are greatly attached to their parents, they make the parent’s values and attitudes their own. They will thus learn that they should honour their own traditions and respect those that others around them follow. Parents can reinforce this by setting an example.

Parents can teach the lessons of tolerance in other ways too. Talking about this topic will tell children the path you want them to follow. They should play with children of diverse cultures. As they interact with them, they will realise that those children are similar to them in many ways even though there may be some differences. They will realise that everybody contributes to the play group.

Tolerance Activities for Kids

As children grow parents can help their children by following routine activities:

  • Being aware that the way they talk about people who are not like them has a great effect on moulding a child’s attitude. Parents may not realise that the child is listening. If they make fun of someone, or talk about him in a derogatory manner, children are quick to pick it up.
  • Parents should show respect for people belonging to other cultural groups. They may have to correct their own ingrained attitudes which they may be harbouring from their own childhood.
  • In films or on TV if there are unfair stereotypes, point them out to the child.
  • Children should be allowed to experience diversity first hand. Choose a child care facility, school or camp where different children enrol.
  • Movies and TV have a long lasting impact on young impressionable minds. So do toys, books, music and art. Select these carefully.
  • Different interests and abilities in a family cannot be brushed under the carpet. Acknowledge these and demonstrate to the child that you value the uniqueness of each member of the family.
  • If the child asks questions, answer them correctly in a manner which reflects respect for the person spoken about. This sends out a message that it is alright to notice and discuss differences as long as it is done in a proper manner.
  • Familiarize your child with your family traditions. If any of his, or your, friends are curious, invite them to participate so that they can learn about you.
  • In the same way, you can encourage your child to learn about celebrations which are different from your family traditions.
  • Value and accept your child for what he is. If he feels good about himself, he will treat others well. Children who have self esteem and know that they are loved and respected treat others with respect.
  • Teach your children that tolerance does not mean tolerating unacceptable behaviour. Each person needs to respect others in order to be respected in turn.