When I see the words ‘sustainable families’, I think of families that last the distance. What is the secret ingredient that helps some families last the distance? My guess is that it’s tolerance.

Tolerance is such a big, important global issue today. We have refugee crises all over the world, terrorism attacks every other month, and the not-so-subtle racist undertones of many world leaders’ speeches. Tolerance is, perhaps, more important today than ever before. But how do we teach tolerance to our kids?

For me ‘tolerance’ means accepting each other as we are. Accepting our differences, and not trying to make other family members into something we wish they were, but quite obviously aren’t!

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Find out who your children really are, give them a bit of space and observe them. Are they quiet and thoughtful or do they gain their energy from other people, are they extroverts? Maybe a mixture of both. What do they like to do given a bit of free time?

Don’t be worrying about what your friends think of your children, usually they have enough to worry about with their own problems.

Tolerance is also an essential quality for your children to develop and by showing them tolerance, you are helping them to become stronger, more resilient adults. The world we live in is full of people who are different and the more that we can accept that, the better off we will all be.

Although the idea of tolerance is often used to talk about differences in ethnicity, religion, sexuality and culture, it can also be as simple as accepting that you child likes different food, music or hobbies than you do. It’s ok not to love tomatoes (crazy people!) even if you think they are the most amazing food in the world.

Creating tolerant families

6 Ways to Teach Your Children Tolerance

1. The most essential way that you can teach your children tolerance is by showing it to them. Children behave as they see and if they see you showing tolerance, then that’s a great start. Try thinking about the way that you react to other people, and cultures, and also to others around you and see whether you’re showing tolerance?

2. Talk about tolerance and why you want to be more tolerant towards others. Kids don’t always pick up on why you are behaving a certain way and by talking about it, you are making it explicit to the.

3. Notice when they are tolerant of others. It might be as simple as allowing a sibling to have a difference of opinion or choice of activity. Make sure that you comment so that they know you have noticed. Say something like, ‘I see you being really tolerant towards your brother today, I appreciate that, and so does your brother.’ This helps reinforce that good behaviour.

4. Celebrate differences in others. Try celebrating festivals from other cultures as something fun to do as a family. You could celebrate Matariki the Maori New Year or the Chinese New Year in your own family. This is both fun and educational for your children.

5. Choose your books / toys / tv programmes carefully. Consider choosing things that reflect a range of people / attitudes / cultures etc.

6. Discuss things that show intolerance. This could be things in the media, at school or in your own family. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about the ‘bad’ things in the world. Showing them what intolerance looks like is a good way for them to recognise it when they see it.

Perhaps most important of all: Help your kids feel good about themselves. Help them to understand the things that make them special and that these are important things about them.

A sense of self-worth can help kids understand that if it is ok for them to be different, then it is ok for others as well.

Death and illness and accidents can creep up on any family but if you’re lucky enough to escape these, then I believe it’s tolerance that makes sustainable families. Try it. You’ll find raising empathetic and compassionate children to be a real gift!

We hope this helps you to think more about ways you can teach your children tolerance. For more expert advice on raising kids, check out our Parenting section.

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Julie Mulcahy is married to Peter, a Primary School Principal and is descended from a long line of teachers. Julie has taught Years 4 through to Year 13, moved from country schools in Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Northland and spent the past 10 years in Auckland where she has worked for six large secondary schools taking referrals for senior students who had learning or behaviour needs.

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