9 ways to raise an open-minded child

Bent on bringing up a kid who embraces differences? You’ll want to put these suggestions into practice ― pronto!

Several months ago, homemaker Yvonne Tan was taken aback when her 4-year-old son Amos refused to sit beside an Indian national on the MRT. Although it was the only seat available, her son shied away and dragged her to stand in another spot. On being questioned, he said he was afraid of “that man’s dark skin”.

Tan, 33, says, “We’d talked to him before about the four races in Singapore, explaining to him the cultures of each race and exposing him to different types of food like roti prata, nasi lemak, etc. Hence, I was surprised to hear those words coming out of his mouth!”

According to a race relations study by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies, nearly half of those surveyed felt that racism still persists in Singapore. Indeed, young children are constantly absorbing new information and learning about the diverse world around them.

The truth is, in today’s interconnected world, children will be exposed to differences in gender, skin colour, food, customs, culture, lifestyles and much more on their journey to adulthood. As parents, it’s our duty to teach our children to make decisions based on respect and tolerance ― regardless of race, language, religion, ethnicity, gender, age and disabilities ― and not out of bias and prejudice.

Try food from the different races and observe different cultural practices.This will help them understand that although we come from different backgrounds, we can still have fun together.

Childcare education expert Patricia Koh, chief executive of Maple Bear Singapore preschool, explains that tolerance is knowing that someone is different but not expressing your preference or displeasure openly. This means that we disagree but we won’t do anything to object or hurt someone else’s feelings. We show tolerance towards others who behave differently from us because we want to live in harmony. 

She suggests that parents read The Wooden Bowl to their children, so that they’ll learn about respect and consideration. Stories such as The Day The Cow Went Oink and The Ugly Duckling will also help children understand the meaning of being different and the meaning of accepting others, despite their differences.

Here are other ways to teach your child to be an accepting person:

1. Set the example  

Children observe what adults do and will imitate their behaviour. When adults show respect for others, their children will follow suit, too. If an adult uses harsh words to put others down, their child will think thy as acceptable behaviour. When we respect and help the elderly, children will understand that they, too, should behave in the same manner. It’s important to spend time talking about the values you hold close to your heart such as respect, consideration for others, good manners, helpfulness, kindness, telling the truth and many others.

2. Celebrate diversity   

Expose your children to the different races and cultures. Take part in community activities as a family to celebrate different festivals and religious activities. Try food from the different races and observe different cultural practices. This will help them understand that although we come from different backgrounds, we can still have fun together.

Indeed, Tan not only told her son about the various races and lifestyles in Singapore, that weekend, she took him to a restaurant near Little India, followed by a visit to Mustafa Centre.

“It was an eye-opener for Amos. He was afraid at first, clutching both of our hands very tightly. But a while later, he began to relax and take in the different sights. My husband and I decided to do so because we feel that it is important to teach him to be non-judgmental and to respect everyone from young,” Tan explains.