Instilling Tolerance: A Parent/Teacher/Activist’s Guide to Engage with Children

Instilling tolerance and acceptance is a process that demands time and patience. It can’t be achieved in an hour workshop or through a zoom presentation, nor a lot of fancy words can inspire a child or youth to understand these ideologies.

by Maha Usman

On various platforms, almost every day, we engage with content that tells us how we should build more ‘tolerance’ and preach it to our younger generations. Most of us play our part by verbal reinforcement but so much of it roots from visual and emotional interplay that could positively impact a young mind and help them strengthen their tolerance.

Having a background in social sciences and CVE/PVE, I interact with different communities daily. They are people from different religious and ethnic groups with whom I engage in themes such as community building, peace-building, women empowerment, interfaith harmony, and social cohesion. The common link in all of these topics is ‘tolerance’, broadly speaking. These ideologies cannot be learned for an hour-long workshop. Neither can be instilled through an online Zoom presentation where people are taught about sacrifices made by people in history. It’s a slow process that takes time and patience. 

So what does that leave us with? Reinforcement, logic, discourse, and a lot of fancy words that need to be broken down to children and youth in ways that are more than just verbal forms of communication. Unfortunately, this isn’t a workshop content that I’m telling you. It has to be practiced by parents and elders at home (that makes it more tiring and rigorous than a workshop but more rewarding as well!)

Here’s how!

Seek Tolerance Within Your Own Social Circle

This is exactly what it means. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you go the extra mile just to make friends out of your community (well if that works, why not 😉 but to teach your children about ‘accepting and celebrating’ the unique and diverse members of your and their groups. Actions DO speak louder than words and we are our children’s role models.


In middle school, children are encouraged to talk about role-models. In our times, we were ‘forced’ to write essays on only a few historic personalities, anyone other than our community wasn’t appreciated by our teachers.

I read up a blog online where they made an important point about ‘having pictures on walls’ of people from different communities. Sure this works well for teachers but also parents. Our children have school presentations where we can help them present important Christian, Hindu, Sikh, etc. personalities. Visual reinforcement plays an important part in cognitive functions and strengthening the process of storing information. Therefore, it’s important to supplement it with posters, pictures, graphics, and drawings.

Special days make special memories

Do you remember a unique event from your childhood? Going to a circus, visiting a museum, or going to a wedding? You do because it’s easier to recall a bunch of details about the event; our senses and chemical sensitivity arouse during special events. When we see colors or people laughing, smiling, or even crying, it sticks with us for a long time. It’s easier to connect with each other’s feelings that way.

So next time a special event takes place, take your children/ teenager/ young siblings to places where a community different than yours mourns or celebrates a day. It is a great way to become inclusive, tolerant, and cohesive.

Books and Stories

While Googling content for my work, I stumbled upon some books written by Pakistan authors that seem to be a great way to harness tolerance and social cohesion to our little ones. Some of these are P is for Pakistan by Shazia Razzak, Bano, Billoo, and Amai: The Paper Doll Back by Fauzia Minalah, Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo (about Iqbal Masih). These books talk about friendships and bonds outside one’s religion/ ethnic group, and the notion of respecting and loving the diversity of Pakistan.

Stories always play an important role in the cognitive and emotional development of children. It becomes easier for them to find a common ground with someone who’s brought up in a different setting than them.

Other than that, the internet is a bliss. There are several stories on platforms such as Aik- Better Together that could work as a daily dose of inclusivity and acceptance for any age group.


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