After my daughter met her first grade teacher several years ago, she came home from school scandalized. Her teacher, a free-spirited twenty-something-year-old, sported colorful tattoos, earrings up and down her ears and a big, unconventional hairdo.
My little princess assumed a lot. Tattoos and those dozens of earrings must indicate an irresponsible, rebellious sort of teacher, right?
Turned out that the teacher was a gem. Her warm, bubbly personality won over my daughter, and her proficient teaching skills won me over.
It's natural for young children to make snap judgments based solely on a person's appearance. Adults do this all the time, too. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Matthew 7:1 KJV)
How can we remind ourselves to be more loving and open-minded, and how can we teach our children to do the same?
Point out that people who look different are still children of God
Think of friends or acquaintances of different nationalities or races. Explain to your children that everyone on earth is a son or daughter of God. That makes us brothers and sisters.
Emphasize that the world would be so dull if everyone looked, acted and dressed the same. We should learn from each other and embrace those who are different from us. Prejudice is ugly and wrong.
Teach your children empathy for those who have fallen on hard times
Instead of berating or mocking the poor or homeless, talk about what may have led to such dire circumstances. Sometimes people become addicted to substances that cause them to lose everything. Some people suffer from mental illnesses and neglect to medicate themselves, or don't have family to care for them.
Talk about what it must feel like to be in such a difficult situation. To not have a place to call home, healthy meals, changes of clothing and regular employment would be incredibly hard. Find opportunities to volunteer and serve or gather food, toys and clothes to donate to the needy.
Also, show respect and empathy for those with handicaps or physical or mental difficulties.
Help your children respect different religions and religious customs
Unfortunately, some people disrespect certain religions. In their ignorance, they mock things that are sacred to certain religious groups. Help your kids understand how wrong this is. Explain why some religions have certain customs.
For example, you can teach your kids why some Orthodox Jewish men and boys wear payot, or sidecurls (they follow a Biblical counsel against shaving the "corners" of one's head). You can teach your kids why some Muslim women wear a hijab, or headscarf (it's a symbol of modesty, morality and privacy).
When the reasons behind religious customs are understood and taught in a respectful manner, we're more likely to reverence different churches, beliefs and customs.
Wayne Dyer, American author and motivational speaker, said, "When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself."
Teach your kids to be cautious as they form opinions and judgments of others. As they embrace those with physical, financial or religious differences, they'll learn compassion and respect for others.