Dr. Gayatri Bezboruah
"Why do you keep talking about not being able to tolerate your classmate?", "I really can't tolerate this behaviour of yours," "Your screaming and shouting will not be tolerated by anyone" are all part of our conversation with our children- not very often when we are lucky, and quite a few times a day sometimes, when the going gets tough and we parents have to keep going…!  
Tolerance is the willingness to accept something, especially opinions or behaviour that we may not agree with, or people who are not like us. When our children learn tolerance, they are essentially learning the importance of appreciating the differences of others, and how to treat every individual with the same level of compassion, kindness, and respect -- regardless of who they are, or where they come from. As our children mature, the differences in people become more apparent and they begin to pick up on societal attitudes towards those of other religions, races, and cultural backgrounds. The attitudes can come from family members who spout racial slurs, favourite television programs that depict religious groups in a negative light, or a best friend who makes fun of a classmates cultural language, or clothing. When we parents don't make the effort to teach our children tolerance it can set the foundation for the type of narrow-mindedness that can easily escalate into hate. So, what do we parents need to do to teach our children to respect the differences of others? Maybe we could start with something that plays a pivotal role in all our lives these days- the media serials and movies, which sometimes cause our kids to prejudge because of their limited experiences with individuals from backgrounds that are different from their own. So we parents have a responsibility to help our children understand  that what they see or hear may be biased, and sometimes does not represent an entire group of people. 
As parents, we should never allow our friends to display their lack of tolerance around their children. If we stand idly by while our friends make offensive jokes about someone else's features which are different from, it sends kids the silent message that these behaviours of intolerance are acceptable. Talking positively to children about others helps them understand that everyone deserves to be judged as an individual, not grouped in a category that's based on religious beliefs, skin colour, or cultural differences. Being from a dissimilar background is not a bad thing, and should never be used as a criteria to determine another's worth. 
We parents should also set an example of how other religions and cultures are valued in the household by encouraging our kids to invite friends from diverse backgrounds into the home; making multicultural books and toys an accessible part of their everyday playthings; and allowing them to learn about the rich heritages of others via festivals, cooking classes, parades, museums, etc. When children don't learn to respect differences in others, it cheats them out of the valuable opportunity to form everlasting friendships; sets the foundation for hate; and hinders their ability to function in a society that grows more diverse with each passing day. And we wouldn't want such a feeling to develop, would we? 
Dr Gayatri Bezboruah is Professor of Paediatrics, Gauhati Medical College, Guwahati. She can be reached at or