In the modern world, you are exposed to diversity everywhere you go. People share different beliefs, languages, traditions, backgrounds, and appearances. Diversity fuels the world, creates numerous educational opportunities, and keeps conversations interesting.
As a loving parent, you want your child to grow with an open mind, tolerant of all the differences out there and capable of making thoughtful decisions based on facts. If you want your kids to be open-minded, here are 10 important things to remember.
1. Open-mindedness doesn’t come from racial diversity
Diversity is largely dependent on different socioeconomic factors. Public schools are location-based, and your kids will go to school with other kids who live nearby. Unless you are based in a major city like New York, there is a relatively small chance that you’ll get any sort of real diversity. It’s hard to admit, but the world is still segregated as housing is segregated economically. Now, I’m certain you know which neighborhoods in your city are “good”, “expensive”, “Chinese,” and so on. Yet, many modern parents opt to take their kids out of the typical suburban exodus once they finish kindergarten, as they see that the suburbs as not a realistic preparation for their kids’ lives. If it’s an option for you — consider it!
2. Open-mindedness comes from an open learning environment
However, not all schools can boast this type of environment. A lot of teachers are fired because they don’t teach to the tests, and sadly, fringe ideas are not part of the national curriculum. If you want to raise an open-minded child, don’t let them learn in the test-based environment where they just grow up knowing that all they need is to remember the right answer to pass a test.
Help your kids develop critical thinking and teach them to make independent judgements. When they ask for your help, don’t give them a ready-made solution. Instead, brainstorm different ideas together. Help them find the best one on their own by encouraging them to ask questions, slightly guiding them in the right direction. Stop saying things like “I know better,” or “Because I said so,” when they don’t understand why they should do it your way. Let them make mistakes and even fail sometimes. Yes, it might be hard for you, but to raise your child to be a successful, open-minded adult, they need to learn how to get over failure, analyze their mistakes, and make more successful attempts.
3. Always monitor your own attitude and open-mindedness
Kids are constantly watching you deal with different situations and people. If you want your kid to be open-minded, you should always stay alert about the things you say and the way you act. Avoid dropping even casual statements of intolerance, such as “Janine’s mom isn’t right because she doesn’t accept evolution theory,” or judging anyone because of traditions they follow. Your kids should grow up knowing that if someone does the usual things in a different way, it doesn’t mean they are wrong and should be criticized. Difference isn’t bad— difference is what makes the world go round.
4. TV shows and movies are full of prejudice
You should explain to your child that not all Russians are cold-minded villains as the movies often show, not all Mexicans are illegal immigrants, and so on. Explain to your child that the world is much more complicated that it is shown on the screen and that there is lots of bias in the media. Instead, offer them raw facts about different cultures and ethnic groups so they can learn to make their own judgements.
5. Teach them languages
Languages open people up to understanding of different cultures and their values. Yes, English is commonly spoken around the world, however, understanding another language exposes you to more possibilities to see things from a different perspective. Besides, your children will be able to access information presented from a different perspective and become more tolerant of other cultures whose language they can speak and understand. Intolerance and hostility often comes from miscommunication and misunderstanding of foreign traditions.
6. Expose your child to different activities and cultures
Watch documentaries about different countries, go to museums, visit exhibitions and cultural events organized by foreign organizations. Try various cuisines, read stories about different cultures, and see the world through photos. Choose books and movies where the main characters are not necessarily Caucasian. If your child’s friend invites you to Hanuka, accept the invitation and explain your kid why he’s celebrating it instead of Christmas. The more your child knows about the world around them, the more they will be able to approach it with an open mind.
7. Let your children have friends who are not like them
Your child should realize that there isn’t a “norm” of how people must look. Encourage them to have friends of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Playing and communicating with other kids will help him realize that they are just like them, despite their color, religion, or cultural background.
When I was a child, I spent two years in Japan playing with the local kids and other expat children from all around the world. I’m grateful my parents never suggested whom I should be friends with. This helped me to grow into a “colorblind”, open-minded adult, curious about the world and other cultures.
8. Respect your child’s individuality
If you really want to bring up an independent, open-minded child, don’t try to push them into stereotypical molds such as, “girls should play with dolls and wear dresses.” If you son wants to paint his nails blue — why not? If your daughter chooses wood work as her after-class activity — fantastic. Ask what she’s up to. Let your child grow outside the so-called “feminine” and “masculine” roles and try different things they like. Who said a boy can’t like cooking and judo at the same time?
9. Teach your children to deal with criticism and prejudice
Unfortunately, not all kids and adults out there would be equally open-minded and tolerant. You’ll have to teach your child to be assertive and to stand up for himself (or his friends) without being overly aggressive. When he or she faces some prejudice because of his hobbies, friends, shape, or size, talk with them through the problem. My friend’s son was teased because he took ballet classes. Yet his mom just told him about all the modern male dancers, showed him Sergei Polunin, who could hardly be called girly, and explained that in a couple of years, all the girls would chase him because he would be really good-looking and maybe even famous. Now, when he hears something skeptical such as, “So you do ballet, huh?” he simply says, “Yes!”
10. Foster logical thinking
Open-mindedness comes hand-in-hand with logical thinking. Intolerance and racism mainly come from bias and false beliefs about different cultures. Don’t let your child grow up believing each and every thing they hear from their teachers, other kids, or their parents. They should be able to evaluate statements, analyze the facts, and create their own opinions about everyone and everything, rather than just relying on ideas presented by others. If you want your children to be open minded, they should be independent thinkers.
Featured photo credit: Julie Kertesz via flickr.com