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.
3. Answer questions honestly
Your child will ask sensitive questions about the differences she observes between herself and others including gender, skin colour and disabilities. Answer them honestly, and explain that everyone is different and this is what makes life more interesting. Don’t shy away or fob off their questions as it is important for children to accept differences in others, instead of pretending that they do not exist.
4. Teach good manners and habits
As young children won’t be aware of what’s expected of them in social settings, you must show them. Saying “please” and “thank you”, waiting for others to finish their sentence before speaking, not openly criticising or imposing their views and opinions onto others as this may cause hurt or embarrassment. These are just some examples of how we can teach our children to be respectful and tolerant of others.
5. Point out prejudice
TV shows are full of racial stereotypes. So, explain to your mini-me that not all Muslims are terrorists or all Asians nerdy workaholics or all Mexicans illegal immigrants. Tell them that there is a lot of prejudice in the media and the world is a lot more than what they see on the tube. Also, highlight facts about different cultures, so that they can learn to come to their own conclusions. By pointing out instances of prejudice to your kids, you’ll not only help them recognise what bigotry looks like but also teach them how to resist this way of thinking.
By pointing out instances of prejudice to your kids, you’ll not only help them recognise what bigotry looks like but also teach them how to resist this way of thinking.
6. Seize teachable moments
It is unavoidable that children will say or repeat things without knowing that it is rude or offensive. Correct them and explain why it is not right to do so. Grab trending topics such as the riot in Little India in 2013 or the disparaging remarks made by Amos Yee against various religious communities as a springboard to tell your children the dangers of doing things that may destroy our harmony.
7. Encourage your children to have friends who are not like them
Your child should understand that there isn’t a standard of how people must look. Urge them to befriend kids of different backgrounds and ethnicities. Playing and communicating with other children will help them realise that despite their colour, religion, or cultural background, the other kids are just like them.
8. Expose your child to different cultures
9. Teach them how to listen
You have to be able to listen to others before you can understand a different point of view. Listening to someone else’s concerns, desires, aspirations, fears and struggles will remind you that there is more to your life than what you see from your own perspective. Unless you make an effort to tune in to others, you’ll be limited to the box that contains your own narrow version of the world.
Our world needs more open-minded and accepting people ― start at home. Teach your children what open-mindedness means and how it can change the world.
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