Children are a blessing – a heritage from God. It’s important to remember that children are not born with hatred or intolerance in their hearts. They learn this by what seeds are planted within the fertile soil of their young and vibrant hearts. Many parents unknowingly plant seeds of unrest or intolerance via the t.v. shows which they permit to enter the four walls of their home. Although they would never (outrightly) teach those values to their children, the covert messages and hidden values that these shows and movies portray are unloving, promote fighting and hostility towards others.
Jesus gave us several examples of how we are to love one another in the Bible.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-23
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31
History has repeatedly shown that individuals who take the position of blame never grow because they give away their power. Yet those who take personal responsibility and own their life are the ones who often move forward and reap a harvest of many blessings.
If today’s children are to have any chance of living harmoniously in this multiethnic world, it is critical that adults nurture it. Here are a few things you can do to nurture that:
- Confront your own prejudices. The first step to nurturing tolerance is to examine your own prejudices and reflect on how you might be projecting those ideas. Chances are that you are communicating those attitudes unintentionally to children. Make a conscious attempt to temper them so they aren’t passed on to your children, grandchildren or those you do life with.
- Refuse to allow discriminatory comments. When you hear prejudicial comments, verbalize your displeasure. How you respond sends a clear message to your child about your values: “That’s disrespectful and I won’t allow such things to be said in my house,” or “That’s a biased comment, and I don’t want to hear it.” Your children need to hear your discomfort so that they know you really walk your talk. It also models a response youth can imitate if prejudicial comments are made in their presence.
- Emphasize similarities. Encourage your kids to look for what they have in common with others instead of how they are different. Any time you listen to your child express how they are different from someone, you might say. “There are lots of ways you are different from other people. Now let’s try to think of ways you are the same.” Help them see how similarities outweigh differences, and how God has created us uniquely, in His image, as the body of Christ.
- Commit to a tolerant, respectful environment. Culture does matter. So if you really want your children to respect diversity, you must adopt a conviction to emphasize respect and tolerance. Once your children knows your standards and expectations, they will be more likely to embrace your principles.
- Live your life as an example of Godly love. The best way for any child to learn love for their brother and sister is for them to watch and listen to your daily example. So ask yourself each day one critical question: “If my child had only my behavior to copy, would he be witnessing an example of what I want him to emulate?” Make sure you are walking your talk.
The best way to teach your children acceptance is not through your lectures but through your example. As they observe people responding to your warmth and kindness they will internalize what you’ve shown them and repeat this behavior.
So be a living testimony of God’s love, acceptance and grace for your children and your family. Hatred and intolerance can be learned, but so too can sensitivity, understanding, empathy, and love.
May God bless you as you plant His seeds of loving kindness, grace and mercy in those tender, precious hearts.
Christy Demetriades, Ph.D.