What Is Tolerance?

Tolerance means being open to and respectful of the differences between people. This includes people of other races and genders, those with special needs, and other differences.

When we are tolerant, we value these differences and can learn from them. We're better able to find common ground, bridge gaps in understanding, and come together for real, positive change.

Being tolerant doesn't mean accepting behaviors that disrespect or hurt other people, like lying, stealing, or bullying. But it does mean rejecting unfair stereotypes (labels) of others, and treating people the way you want to be treated.

How Can Parents Help?

Parents and caregivers are children's first teachers. Even before kids speak, they closely watch — and copy — them. So the best way to instill a feeling of love and respect for others is to have one yourself.

At home, work, and when out and about:

  • Be accountable. Notice the way you talk to and about people who are different from you. Are you respectful? Do you listen to or consider opposing viewpoints? Having an open mind is the first step toward understanding. 
  • Don't reinforce stereotypes. Think about some stereotypes you may have grown up with and make an effort to correct them. Remember, your kids are always listening, so be respectful.
  • Answer kids' questions about differences honestly. Talk together about tolerance and respecting others. This teaches kids that it's OK to notice differences and talk about them in a respectful way.
  • Point out and accept differences within your own family. Accept and even celebrate your kids' differing talents, interests, and styles. 
  • Keep an eye on your family's media. The media and pop culture have a big influence on kids. Point out and talk about unfair stereotypes and intolerant attitudes you see portrayed. Choose books, music, art, and videos carefully.

How Can Parents Help Kids to Accept Others?

Besides modeling the behavior that you want to see in your kids, nurture the skills they need to grow into secure and respectful adults. Be sure to:

  • Help kids feel good about themselves. Kids with strong self-esteem value and respect themselves and are more likely to treat others with respect. Help your child feel accepted, respected, and valued.
  • Reward good behavior. Catch your child being good, and reward that with positive attention. Focus on positive interactions like, "I loved seeing you share!" and "It was nice of you to include your brother. I bet that made him feel good."
  • Discourage bad behavior. Speak up when you hear or see intolerant behavior. Help kids find healthier ways to cope with and accept differences.
  • Expose your child to people who are different. Choose a school, daycare, camp, or club with kids from other areas and different backgrounds. This lets kids learn firsthand that they can find friends anywhere.
  • Learn about different cultures. Learn about people from other places and cultures. Read books, watch movies, listen to music, and learn about celebrations that aren't part of your own traditions.

By building kids' self-esteem and finding ways for them to learn and grow, you'll help them be accepting of others who are different.

What Else Should I Know?

Parents who model tolerance in their everyday lives send a powerful message. And their kids learn to appreciate differences too.

Of course, celebrating differences of others doesn't mean giving up your own heritage. Your family may have its own cultural and religious traditions that you're proud of. Families can find ways to embrace differences while honoring and passing down their own cultural heritage.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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