First, we need to have an accurate understanding of the meaning of tolerance. It doesn’t mean agreeing with every viewpoint or staying quiet in the face of one’s own convictions. In fact, the most important part of tolerance isn’t the differing perspectives—it’s respect for other people. So with this understanding, there are several things you can do to help develop tolerance in your children.
Speak openly about your own viewpoints, and help your children talk through their own perspective.
Again, tolerance isn’t a wishy-washy acceptance of whatever viewpoint comes around. However, in order to recognize differing viewpoints, you have to know your own standpoint and convictions. Discuss your beliefs, and also your reasoning behind them, in an age-appropriate way with your children. Help them understand not only what you believe but also why. Ask questions to help prompt them to begin thinking through their own stance on issues.
Expose children to varying perspectives.
If you live in a bubble that only contains your own point-of-view, you will not have any opportunities to model tolerance for your children. Get to know people whose perspectives are different than yours, and introduce your children to them as well. Share news stories and editorials from varying points-of-view with your children, and discuss them together. Most importantly—don’t just look for the points of disagreement. Instead, really seek to understand the other viewpoint, discussing ways that it might be similar or different to your own (or your child’s own).
Cultivate an atmosphere of respect.
This is the most important component. When disagreements arise—in your family, in your community, or even on a national level—seek to treat the other person with respect, no matter how strong your disagreement. Stand firm in your beliefs and convictions, but don’t lose sight of the humanity of the person you’re disagreeing with. Avoid name-calling and character attacks. When you see other people using these disrespectful strategies (such as on the news), point them out to your child and express your disappointment with that response. Be a model of respect, and expect the same from your children.
There’s no denying that we live in a complicated, contentious, sociopolitical world. But, as parents, we have a responsibility to help our children learn to be tolerant of differing viewpoints. Respectful engagement is the only way forward, and the only possibility for change; it’s critical to teach our children these skills.