6 Great Ways to Foster Tolerance and Empathy in Your Children

06/20/2017 03:27 pm ET
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What are some recurring fun activities or games that can help instill tolerance and empathy in children? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Adrienne Gomer , 7+ years as a parent to (now) three kids plus 15 years of nanny experience, on Quora:

There are so many fun things you can do with children to expose them to a wide range of people and cultures and teach them the value of empathy. Really you can apply these messages to almost anything you do. Talk to your kids about situations they’ve seen or experienced and how they can become advocates for themselves and others. Tell them about experiences you’ve had to open up conversations. Normalize different cultures you see on TV, out in the world, next door, etc. Set aside judgement and talk about how people come from all walks of life and what life must be like for people who have different experiences. Open and honest communication is the best jumping off point for teaching kids about tolerance and empathy and really you can apply it every day!

Setting an example: Children mimic what you do. The best thing you can do for your child is to set an example no matter what you are doing. Take an interest in helping others through community outreach, bring your kids along when appropriate. Get involved in programs that promote diversity. Even if your kids are not involved, you can talk to them about it and they can see that it’s important to you.

Playing games: Kids get competitive, it’s only natural. Teaching them to be great sports (not sore losers) and to challenge themselves is a great way to teach them that life won’t always go their way and to be happy for others that succeed. Don’t let them win when you play games at home, but be happy for them when they do! Get them involved in sports and activities outside of your neighborhood so they can meet people from different places and form bonds with kids outside of where they live. Exposing children to different walks of life is crucial. How can they be empathetic towards people they don’t know? Teaching them to navigate the emotions of winning and losing is key when it comes to empathy and tolerance and what better way to do that than with a group of new people?

Cultural events: Check out what cultural events are happening in your area. Talk about why they are significant and what kinds of people are represented (or not represented) there. Do some research ahead of time to learn about the community you’re going to visit. Make observations about how people there are different and the same as you and how that is awesome! Are there things you can learn from other cultures that you can start doing in your own home? Be careful of cultural appropriation, though, use that as an opportunity to talk to your kids about the difference between celebrating a different culture and using it as a source of amusement for yourself.

Role models: There is this theory that children should be surrounded by a “stew” - a group of people from all walks of life - to help teach them about different kinds of people, families, relationships… I have a hard time with this because I am weary of making friends for my kids based solely on someone’s identity. Hopefully, if you do some of the things above, bonds will naturally form across cultural lines and your children will see that it’s a positive to make connections with people outside of your regular circle. Show them examples of leaders that come from different backgrounds, read books to them about strong people from different countries. Point out when people defy stereotypes.

Honesty & discussion: The most important thing you can do with your kids is to be open and honest with them. Do you have some prejudices you aren’t proud of? Talk to your kids about them. Point out when people are victims of prejudice or discrimination. Talk to your kids about how people from different backgrounds have different experiences than they do because of the color of their skin, or their gender, etc. and how that’s not necessarily fair. Talk to them about the advantages they have because of who they are and how some other people might have more to overcome. Talk to them about how they can be advocates for those people. Talk to them about how they can be aware and help make change.

Books and movies: When all else fails, the best representations of our culture and the diversity (or lack there of) is in pop culture. What shows are hot right now? What movies have come out recently that tackle diversity issues? I just had a great conversation with my eight year old about the movie Moonlight and how it was important because it showed a story that hasn’t been told before about someone who comes from a background that is typically portrayed as a stereotype in TV and movies. Talk about what the shows they are watching and the books they are reading do well when it comes to addressing different people and what they do poorly. I’m looking forward to taking my kids to see Beauty and the Beast this weekend and discussing the evolving role of the princess in distress.

Everything is a jumping off point for conversation. Don’t shy away from topics that are difficult to navigate. Be open and honest. Telling your children to be “colorblind” is a dangerous message - for one, it’s not clear why and it also dismisses the fact that people from different backgrounds have different experiences that we should be sensitive to and appreciate. Teach them that diversity is something to be aware of and to celebrate and to be involved in, through community outreach, through sports, through cultural events, and what they are exposed to through the media. That’s the most important message of all.

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