Teaching Tolerance, p.6
- Bring up the topic yourself. Point out the ways your child is unique -- he may be shorter than his classmates, wear glasses, and be good at soccer. Compare these attributes to the differences he notices in others. Discuss the fact that some people think differences make other people dirty, scary, or unworthy, but this is not what you or your family believes.
- Point out intolerance. It may be something you see in your community or an incident depicted in a movie. Use these as teaching moments, springboards to discussions about intolerance and the attitudes you'd like your children to have.
- Embrace other cultures. Demonstrate an accepting, open- minded attitude. Read your children books showing families that don't look like yours. Take a trip to a civil rights or Native American museum. Stop the car to admire the tiled dome of a mosque or the stained glass of a synagogue.
- Celebrate your own culture too. Teach your kids about their family history. The child who values the things that make him special has fewer reasons to hate, says Stern.
In the end, all the talking in the world won't help if your lifestyle doesn't match what you teach. "The burden is on every parent to build social interactions that include people of all different types," says Bullard. "You have to take a step back and say, 'Okay, we've got the talk, now can we walk the walk?'"
Walking the walk might mean choosing a school because it has a multicultural student population. Or it might mean attending a Special Olympics event, where you and your child can get to know people with disabilities. "The best way to make children more tolerant is by giving them experiences with people of other groups," says Dr. Aronson. "You learn to appreciate the niceness and kindness of other people, and it becomes much more difficult to hate."
What To Do If Your Child Is a Victim of Prejudice...
1. Make sure your child's physical safety is not at risk, says Caryl Stern, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League. If it is, contact whoever was in charge when the incident occurred. If it's your child's emotional well-being that's in danger, help her talk about her feelings. Don't make light of the problem.
2. Reinforce your child's sense that what happened was wrong. You might talk about a time when someone called you a name.
3. Prepare your child for any future situations by giving him the words to use ("Don't call me that. It's not my name"). If the problem continues, discuss it with the adult in charge, such as the teacher.
...Or If He's the One Making Mean Remarks
1. Stop the behavior right away by telling your child that what he did is unacceptable and that you take it very seriously.
2. Explain why the stereotype or bias she expressed isn't true. In addition, point out that calling someone names is a hurtful act. Role-play what happened in reverse, giving your child a sense of what it feels like to be picked on just because she's different.
3. Model tolerance in every aspect of your life. If you make a mistake in judging someone, explain to your child that you were wrong to make an assumption about that person, and why.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the December/January 2005 issue of Child magazine.