by Kimberly Blaker
Freelance Parenting Writer
Published by familyresource.com
How to Teach Kids Religious Tolerance
According to the latest FBI data, there were 5,818 single-bias hate crimes reported for the year 2015 alone. Though depending on how hate crimes are defined, there’s an average of 259,700 hate crime victimizations each year according to the Bureau of Justice. The difference in these statistics stems in part from the Bureau of Justice’s inclusion of rape and violence against women and the fact most hate crimes go unreported.
Of particular concern to parents, according to various agencies, young men under 26 are the perpetrators of a significant percentage of these violent acts. Religious-based biases, as well as ethnic and racial biases, are learned during early childhood, explains the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Young children exposed to these prejudices hold numerous stereotypes by the time they reach the age of twelve.
In a society as diverse as the United States, it’s troubling to see the misconceptions often held toward those who are different. This includes unfair biases toward other religious faiths.
As parents and educators, we must strive to change these patterns so our kids grow into kind and accepting adults. Kids should understand there will always be some bad apples within any religion, even their own. But those who commit violence don’t define the character of every person or even a majority within that group or religion.
Tolerance begins at home
There are many ways to teach kids religious tolerance. But we must first recognize our own attitudes and actions toward those of different faiths plays a crucial role. Children are observant and catch even the subtlest stereotyping and prejudicial behaviors. According to experts, attitudes held by those in the home will have the strongest impact on the way children perceive people who are different.
There are many ways you can encourage your child to accept those of other faiths and even those of no faith. If you haven’t already, explain your beliefs to your child and why you hold your beliefs. Then share factual, non-derogatory information about other religious beliefs as well.
Read books with your child on world religions, diversity, and that teach kids religious tolerance. Have open discussions and encourage questions. Explain the importance of religious freedom for your own family and why it’s also important for others. Then make sure your child understands being accepting of another doesn’t mean you must hold that person’s beliefs as true.
Learning tolerance outside the home
Talk to your child’s school, as recommended by Tolerance.org, to make sure textbooks and
curricula are up to date to reflect equity and multiculturalism. Ask teachers and staff if and how they approach the task to teach kids religious tolerance in the classroom. If the school or classroom doesn’t already include tolerance education in its program, try to help activate it. Ask if you can share ideas with staff. Also, learn other ways you can assist the school in promoting positive attitudes toward diversity.
Help your child develop acceptance by sharing the beliefs of relatives and friends who hold different views from your own. It often comes as a surprise, even to adults, to learn some family members hold very different religious beliefs. Ask those of other views to share with your child what they believe and why. Make sure these adults understand your purpose so they won’t attempt to proselytize your child or criticize your own beliefs. Rather, ask them to share their beliefs with neutrality. By providing your child the opportunity to discover good, well-respected family members and friends hold a wide range of beliefs, your child will be well on his way toward acceptance of others.
Another recommendation by Tolerance.org is to encourage your child to actively fight stereotypes and intolerance. Help your child to form a club, study circle, or sponsor a walkathon for diversity. Your child will have the opportunity to meet kids of other beliefs while at the same time learning the importance of social responsibility.
Also confront biased behavior expressed by family and friends, especially if your child witnesses it. For example, if grandma complains her “Jewish neighbors don’t take care of their lawn,” don’t brush the comment aside. Otherwise, both grandmother and your child will perceive your silence as acceptance of the stereotype or prejudicial remark.
Confronting family and friends isn’t easy. But it can be done in a tactful manner. Don’t criticize. Just nonchalantly but clearly acknowledge grandmother’s frustrations with the unkempt yard. Then point out it has nothing to do with being Jewish. By doing so, your child will learn such biased comments are not necessarily true. It also teaches your child not to be apathetic toward intolerance.
Also, if your child attends church, Sunday school, or other religious functions, talk with the leaders and teachers to learn their attitudes and levels of tolerance. While many are accepting of other religious views, some religious leaders perpetuate intolerance by preaching against nonbelievers, those of other faiths, or people or groups that don’t adhere to their specific lifestyle guidelines. Other religious leaders may contribute to stereotyping in more subtle ways. Kids are very perceptive though and will recognize the biases all the same. If you do detect prejudiced attitudes, look for another church or denomination that’s less biased.
Finally, talk with your church about ways it can promote and teach kids religious tolerance among its youth. After all, the desire for peace on earth is common among many of the world’s religions.
Share these books with your child on world religions and that teach kids religious tolerance:
- A World of Faith by Peggy Fletcher Stack, illustrated by Kathleen B. Peterson
- One World, Many Religions: The Ways We Worship by Mary Pope Osborne
- The Story of Religion by Betsy Maestro and Guilio Maestro
- Sacred Myths: Stories of World Religions by Marilyn McFarlane
- Just Because: Where Seeing Another Point of View Makes a Better You by Amber Housey
- Teaching Tolerance: Raising Open-minded, Empathetic Children by Sara Bullard