Teaching Tolerance – an important value in an angry world. Race, class, gender and kids’ conversations.

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This is a tough subject that many parents are shying away from, and it’s not about the birds and the bees!

A new study by the researchers at Sesame Street indicates a majority of parents may not be having a conversation about race, class, or ethnicity with their kids, the factors that make up social identities.

Sesame Street & the University of Chicago conducted a nationwide survey of more than 6,000 parents and found 68 percent of the respondents felt race has some impact on a child’s ability to succeed.

But 60 percent rarely discuss race or ethnicity or social class, even though kids notice differences at a very early age.

On the playground when children ask , ‘Hey Mum , why is that person’s skin colour different to mine? Why is that lady wearing something on her head?’ We tend to hush them up. We get embarrassed or think we’re going to offend someone.

The research suggests parents should look for events and opportunities to celebrate your child’s heritage, colour, religious beliefs, and family makeup and look for opportunities to discuss and embrace differences.

Look for the simple moments to ‘Talk & Teach’

It could be a moment in the supermarket or a moment on the playground.

These are the moments that will help your child learn more about themselves and the diverse world around them.

The new study builds on previous research that finds a positive social identity and acceptance is associated with greater self-esteem, tolerance, and also better outcomes in the teen years and adulthood.

So, when your child asks a question embrace & use the moment to explain.

Books to help:

Todd Parr:  It’s Okay To Be Different

It’s Okay to Be Different cleverly delivers the important messages of acceptance, understanding and confidence in an accessible, child-friendly format featuring Todd Parr’s trademark bold, bright colours and silly scenes.

Bobbi Kates: We’re Different, We’re the Same (Sesame Street)

Who better than Sesame Street to teach us that we may all look different on the outside–but it’s important to remember that deep down, we are all very much alike? We all have the same needs, desires, and feelings. Elmo and his Sesame Street friends help teach toddlers and the adults in their lives that everyone is the same on the inside, and it’s our differences that make this wonderful world, which is home to us all, an interesting–and special–place.

This enduring, colourful, and charmingly illustrated book offers an easy, enjoyable way to learn about differences–and what truly matters. It is an engaging read for toddlers and adults alike.



Let’s Teach Tolerance & Understanding

I was working in Paris & staying just a few streets away when a terrorist shut down the Champs-Élysées in 2017 & it made me ponder tolerance.

I was also reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography ‘Becoming’ and Barack Obama’s autobiography and as a former Deuty Head teacher it got me thinking about prejudice, discrimination and tolerance.

I think kids are born with wide-eyed curiosity and an instinctive sense of justice. While they certainly notice differences among people, they don’t typically attach stereotypes to what they see when they are very young.

Most experts agree that whilst children are curious and fascinated about differences, they learn prejudice from others.

So where do they learn to judge, criticise and learn prejudice first I wonder?

• Just for this week notice how you talk about others.
• What language do you use?
• What words do you use and in what tone of voice?
• What beliefs and values are you passing on to your kids?
• How do you explain people’s different customs, hairstyles or clothing to your kids
• If you were a detached observer what messages are your kids picking up consciously and unconsciously from you?

As parents, we can have a profound influence over how our kids react to a variety of cultures, ethnicities or disabilities as we are their primary role models, whether we like it or not.

Patty Wipfler, founding director of Hand in Hand, a non-profit parent leadership institute thinks “Usually right underneath intolerance is a little vulnerable area where kids are frightened or scared or misinformed.”

Teaching tolerance is certainly an ongoing process so here are some more ideas to get you pondering!

Reflecting On Your Own Childhood

In order to really understand where intolerance comes from how about reflecting on your own childhood, recalling situations where you witnessed or experienced racism, intolerance, bullying or learnt to judge others. Just ask yourself:
• What values did you learn from your mum, dad or grandma or other people of influence in your life? Do these views reflect who you are today and are they what you want to pass onto your children?

Encouraging Curiosity

Teaching your children from an early age to ask questions rather than judge when they see something that looks different is a great way to encourage curiosity and trying to answer their questions with facts, rather than judgments of your own is also a great way to help them embrace diversity.

So when they ask “Why does that man have that funny hat on his head?” “Why can’t Yasmin eat pork chops?” “Why doesn’t Aaron celebrate Christmas?


What makes the difference is how you handle it and if you don’t know Google it!

Teach your children from an early age to ask questions rather than judge when they see something that looks different.

Face Differences Honestly

If we tell our children that everyone is the same, they will quickly start to question us. Instead, be honest with your kids about the differences that exist between people and groups. Physical differences, such as skin colour, are just one difference. Also talk to your kids about how people celebrate different holidays, religions, and other traditions.

Exposure to Variety

Children won’t be comfortable with difference if they never experience it. Expose your kids to food, languages, and cultural festivals from cultures around the world. When possible, enrol them in a school or other activities that include a mix of children from various races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Address Prejudicial Language

If you hear your child make a prejudicial remark about someone else, gently address it right away.

Read Diverse Materials

Fortunately there really is a wealth of children’s literature that addresses multicultural and tolerance themes. For the youngest set, try Whoever You Are by Mem Fox, The Cow That Went OINK by Bernard Most, or The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss. Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard or William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow are good choices for slightly older kids. Use these books as teaching opportunities, discussing the characters, art, and other customs that are presented.

Ultimately, overcoming prejudice requires that we experience our surroundings with an open mind, compassion, and an extended hand. As the new president remarked in his Inaugural speech it’ s about extending an open hand not a clenched fist. Your kids will look to you for guidance.

Above the entrance to RobbenIsland stands a plaque that struck a real cord with me which says:

“While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want RobbenIsland to be a monument of our hardship and suffering.

We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil.

“A triumph of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness;

a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness;

a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.”

How do you teach your children about tolerance?

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