Teach tolerance when they are young

The holidays are coming up, and people celebrate them in different ways. I thought that the perfect character trait to share would be tolerance. When we are tolerant, we “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice (of something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.”

In researching how we learn to be tolerant, I found an article by Dr. Bruce Perry.

The name of the article is “Keep the Cool in School, Promoting Non-violent Behavior in Children.” Tolerance is one of the six core inner strengths researchers have found that children need for healthy emotional development. Children with a healthy emotional development are rarely violent or intolerant. “The Corner” has touched on several of them, but here is the complete list in order, as the skills build upon each other.

1. Attachment: This strength is the cornerstone of all the others, and is the ability to “form and maintain healthy emotional bonds with another person.” (Perry) It is the interactions with loving parents or caregivers that model future relationships. If these bonds are missing, it can cause children to have a hard time making friends or trusting adults.

2. Self-Regulation: Thinking before you act, would be the key phrase here. It’s what separates humans from the animals! Sadly, this trait has to be learned from others, so this trait depends upon the emotional maturity of a child’s caregivers. A lack of this core strength will result in a child who has difficulty keeping friends, learning, or controlling behavior.

3. Affiliation: Being able to join others and contribute to a group is important because it allows us to “form and maintain relationships with others-and to create something stronger, more adaptive, and more creative than the individual.” (Perry) A choir can do more things than a soloist. A sports team has more abilities than an individual. Also, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” as Aristotle taught.

4. Awareness: This strength is the ability to really see and recognize others’ needs, interests, strengths, and what’s important to them. Babies start out as the center of their worlds, and gradually learn that they are just a piece in a greater puzzle. Since communication is only about 2 percent vocabulary, the other 98 percent of language involves expression, emphasis, sighing, pausing, gesticulating, and more. It demands awareness. In pre-school children are often taught to read facial expressions and feelings.

When children join a group they becomes aware of others’ needs and differences by paying attention. In some ways they will be the same as another, and in other ways different. Gender, age, and race are some of the first obvious differences. How their peers and adult caregivers treat people with these differences will often determine how they will treat them. Conflict might arise in a child if a child has a great relationship with a person of a different race, and is taught prejudice against that race. With experience a child learns to reject labels that are prejudiced.

5. Tolerance: Finally! Can you see how all of these previous core strengths lead to tolerance for accepting what is different from one’s thinking? Since children tend to join groups based on what is familiar to them, they may need encouragement to reach out and be more sensitive to others, and other groups. Again, it is the adults in their lives that they model.

Sometimes intolerance is perceived by others when one has a genuine desire to help. When a person discovers something in his/her life that makes it so much better, such as a positive belief system, or quitting smoking, they want that for their loved ones, and may encourage them to also do so. Those who get “the talk” may feel that the other person is being intolerant of their actions. I’ve learned the hard way that it is better to ask first if a person wants to hear or talk about something that has enriched my life.

An intolerant child is the one likely to tease, bully, and even be violent to groups who represent “other” to him. They haven’t learned to meet each person individually, and learn the common humanness that we all share. Prejudiced fear speaks, and the child responds. Also, when a child is learning about others, they may meet another who is not kind, and that may cause intolerance to grow. But that would be like saying all dogs were bad because some have bitten people. It just helps for children to be exposed to different groups, teams, races, etc. to learn our common basically good nature.

A Jewish friend of mine tutors Math at Kauai High. He taught one child who made some negative comment about Jews. When he revealed that he was Jewish, the child was surprised that a Jew would be kind enough to volunteer to help kids and be so nice. He couldn’t explain what a Jew was but thought that they were bad people.

6. Respect is the last core strength, which I wrote a whole article about, but briefly it is appreciating your own self worth, and that of others. When all the other core strengths are met, this will happen naturally. It is a life long process, but again, its roots begin in childhood. Sadly, a child who disrespects others usually has little self-respect. It’s a sign to watch for. And when respect is missing, “Children will likely become violent — because they value nothing.” (Perry)

Maria Montessori, an icon in the education of children, said that the first three years were the most important ones in a child’s development. If we want to prevent emotional problems, we will have to insure that the core strengths are modeled in the home, as most children don’t start school until age three or even later. Parent/child play and care groups may be a great way to help children learn these six core truths. It is exhausting to be a parent 24/7, but if caring parents took turns caring for each others’ children, it could be an example of “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The holidays are celebrated differently among different religions, and there are even several sub-groups in the major religions. But all of these religions have the golden rule in their scriptures, which is basically, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” They also teach that it is important to love one another, and be compassionate. We’ll have a great time always, if we can do that!

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Questions?

Hale ‘Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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