Hindsight Parenting: Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance

I don’t know about you, but I am counting the days until this election season is over. I am tired of the nastiness, and am saturated with the hate and bigotry and sexism. I am exhausted with it all. Spent. As adults, if we aren’t careful, we could let all of that negativity steeped in our bones spill out and end up in the marrow of our children as well. 

We know. We all know that they are watching. Oh yes, we may snap the nightly news off when they walk in the room. We may speak in code when describing yet another new low of a story. We may even hide the scary magazine covers and headlines deep in the bottom of our kitchen trash cans in order to spare them.  However, unfortunately, those children of ours aren’t with us all the time. They go to school and hear things. They play on the playground with uninformed children who pass on erroneous info in only the way a child with a brain not ready to process such hate would do. They go to friends’ houses with parents who may encourage political discourse in all manners that may not match our own. No matter how hard we try. We can’t keep it ALL from them. The bottom line, at least for me, is that they know, even if we don’t want them to, they do. And while I can’t stop ALL of the hate from reaching my daughter or worse, TEACHING my daughter, one thing I know for sure is that we, the parents, are the models our children will learn from the most. Therefore it is absolutely imperative that we consistently layout for them the opposite of what hate looks like. In an era of such incivility, we must, MUST explicitly teach tolerance.

So how do we do that? How do we explicitly teach something as important and necessary as tolerance. The list below could get us started.

  • If your children DO come to you with something that they have inadvertently heard, don’t deny the validity or tell them to “not worry.” Try to answer as honestly as you can. Point out the things that go against what you stand for. Try and give them examples of how you combat hate and intolerance. Reassure them that you are there whenever they need you.
  • Be on the lookout for unfair stereotypes that are played out in the media. Hit the “pause” button the moment you notice them. Point them out. Talk about them. Keep an open dialogue when examples of intolerance arise.
  • At the same time, sing the praises of media that strives to promote diversity. Watch them and discuss their merits. Help your children to be on the lookout for other shows and movies that promote the same values.  There are several websites that will help parents with this.  My favorite is Commonsense Media.
  • If your children have questions about differences, answer them as honestly and calmly as you can. Snapping at children to be quiet or teaching them that these kinds of questions are taboo just perpetuates that there must be something wrong with diversity.  If kids feel safe posing questions, it sends a message to them that it is absolutely acceptable to notice differences as long as it’s done in a respectful way.
  • Value and point out the uniqueness within your own families.  If you ask my daughter what makes her and her brothers special, she would recite for you the things that make them wonderfully different.  While one loves and craves all things theater, the other is incredible with his hands,  while another loves animals beyond measure. Celebrating the uniqueness of your own family helps to portray that differences are standard among humans.
  • Help your own child to feel good about themselves. Teaching for a quarter of a century, I have noticed that the meanest kids (heck the meanest adults too), the bullies of the world, are those who feel badly about themselves. A child with a healthy self esteem will not be threatened by differences.  A child who is respected and valued at home will then in turn respect and value others.
  • Speak out in front of your children against jokes or slurs that target groups or people. This is one that I am working on. I refuse to laugh or join in on hate speech but, I am painfully aware that silence sends a message to my children that what’s being said is acceptable.  It is imperative that as adults, we model what an appropriate response to hate looks like. A firm, “I disagree with that. Differences are what makes the world or our country special.” will go a long way to send a message to our children and others that tolerance needs champions.
  • Read books to your children that promote tolerance and discuss openly the social issues of our time. I have found, that with my daughter, conversations about difficult subjects are much much easier when posed around a fictional character. We can suppose many things and predict responses based on the supporting characters around the main character. We can compare them to ourselves and to others that we know. Best of all, we can incorporate the best of those characters into our everyday lives.
  • Remember that your children are always watching and listening. Do not make jokes that disparage anyone different from you. Although they may seem like harmless fun, making someone seem less than simply because they aren’t the same is no joke.
  • And by all means, be AWARE of your own intolerance. I often see on Facebook and other social media outlets, posts about tolerance and community put there by people who often demonstrate at work, at parties, with friends, a very judgmental intolerant nature. It is as if they are unable to hear their own hate, to feel their own intolerance, to know their own shortcomings.  Being aware takes a mindfulness to not only all that one speaks, but also to one’s thoughts. Consistently analyze the beliefs you have.  How does what you say and what you think promote a self-centeredness? Are we inclusive in our ideals? The good news is if you find that you aren’t, it is a wonderful moment to demonstrate to your own children that erroneous intolerant thoughts and beliefs can be changed once they are identified.  Making an effort to change them and including your children in that effort promotes a respect for others that your children will learn alongside of you and benefit from as well.

One note about the list above. It is imperative, I think, while we teach our children tolerance and an ease about the diversity of this planet, we also must teach them that to have tolerance does not mean accepting unacceptable behavior. Help them to understand that having tolerance means that all are treated with respect. It doesn’t mean that the idea of being an upstander goes away. Discourse should be respectful and should be explicitly taught as well.

But that is a discussion for another column!


Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.  Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around on the 5th Monday of any month.

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