RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: February 25, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Corinn Cross, MD
This is Healthy Children brought to you by the American Academy of Pediatrics on RadioMD.com Here’s Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: You know, we live in a very diverse society and some people welcome this and some people are a little bit more hesitant. I recently did something with my daughter that took her out of her comfort zone and into a situation where she was helping people of all different diversities, ethnicities and financial situations and it was scary, but I think she learned a lot from it.
How do you raise a tolerant child? How do you raise a child that understands these differences and embraces them and is not so intolerant or afraid of them.
My guest is Dr. Corrin Cross, fan favorite here on Healthy Children.
So, Dr. Cross, raising a tolerant child. Are we talking about tolerant of disabilities and peoples’ different diversities and ethnicities? What are we talking about?
DR. CROSS: That’s exactly right. So, there are so many differences in this world. There are cultural differences, religious differences. There are sexuality differences. There are financial differences. There are disabilities. There are just so many differences and we want our children to feel comfortable with people who are different than themselves and different than necessarily the community that they’re used to being around—their friends, their little close niche of people.
I think that what you said in your opening is absolutely right. The best thing that we can do--the most important thing that we can do as parents--is to model tolerance. By exposing children to different situations where they’re going to have to go a little bit outside their comfort zone, that really goes a long way for children basically deciding what their norms are. When they get repeatedly exposed to things that are different, those things aren’t different any longer and they really just start to make that part of their community. I think that that is really the easiest way to raise a tolerant child: to expose them.
Also, as parents, we have to be aware of what we do and what we say. We can try to be showing that we’re tolerant, but if we’re constantly making off color jokes or flippant remarks, we have to realize that children are listening and they pick up on this and that plays a part into developing what their beliefs are about other people.
MELANIE: I think so, too, and I think that they model what their parents do and so, if you know anybody who’s bigoted or is a racist or any one of these things and is intolerant, then you can see that their kids kind of feel the same way. So, you want to make sure you watch what you say. But, Dr. Cross, suppose you are trying your best and doing all these things, but the kids hear things and they watch the media. Maybe they hear bad things about Muslims in the media and they make some comment about them being terrorists or something. How do you counteract what other people are telling your children?
DR. CROSS: Well, I think that’s a very good point. So, you can’t expose your child to everything. You can want to, but, really, maybe you’re in a community where you can expose them to a Muslim family or you can expose them to a family with two mommies. I mean, there’s lots of times when that’s just not possible and so I think that making sure that they still get a sense of what those cultures are about is important or what a lifestyle’s about. So, you can read them books about other cultures. When you kids are little, of course, we love Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious and all of that, but, at the same time, you can use books where the protagonist is of a different culture, of a different family unit, of a different religion. It doesn’t have to be that that is what the book is about, but it can just be a book that happens to have a child of a different race. There are tons of books out there if you just put that on your radar and say, “Wow. You know, we should have books with African American children and with Asian children and over here, there’s a Freckleface Strawberry book and the really good friend has two mommies. If you start introducing all of that, when they hear somebody say something bigoted; when they hear the media do that or when they hear whoever—a neighbor—say something that might not be very nice, they’ll already have a basis of, “Wait a second. I know about that a little bit and that doesn’t sound right to me.” When you have not done anything with your child and the first thing they hear is a bigoted remark, it’s so much harder to change their mind, but when they already have a foundation of tolerance, then it’s much easier to say, “You know what? That probably wasn’t so nice what that person said before. What do you think about it?” And talk to them about it. You don’t have to condemn that person and say, “That person’s a horrible person.” Say, “What do you think about that? They probably shouldn’t have said that. How do you think it would make somebody hear if they heard that? Do you think everybody who is Muslim is like that?” You can address it and talk to them about it. It’s always a teachable moment.
MELANIE: It is always a teachable moment and sometimes it can be really rewarding when you actually see, Dr. Cross, your child change an opinion about somebody because of it and I saw that this weekend. It was so satisfying and rewarding and my daughter was afraid of, you know, homeless people and this taught her something about that. That they’re people too and they’re down on their luck because who knows why, and that she shouldn’t be afraid and she served them with dignity. It was just wonderful to see that change.
So now, there are other peoples’ children. You can’t affect other peoples’ children. That we all know. We’ve learned that over the years.
DR. CROSS: We can try.
MELANIE: We can try. Believe me, some of us do. Okay, so raising our tolerant children, teaching our children. Now, what about things that they’re a little bit unsure of like disabilities? You know, if there’s a child with a disability, or an adult who’s missing a leg because he’s a veteran and your child stares and you say, “Stop looking.” Is that raising a tolerant child or is it okay to look?
DR. CROSS: I think it depends on the situation.
MELANIE: Got you there, didn’t I? That’s a tough question.
DR. CROSS: Yes. It does depend on the situation not because there’s necessarily a right and wrong answer, but because different people with disabilities feel differently. I think some people are, I don’t want to say stronger-skinned about it, but some people, it doesn’t bother them when little kids stare because they know that that’s what’s going to happen. But, other people, maybe it’s something that’s new to them, that just happened where they feel like everybody’s staring at them and then you’re staring and confirming that everybody’s staring at them.
So, it really is a difficult situation to say what is okay to do, but I think that you can try to read the person that you’re with and you should say, “You know what? It may make somebody feel uncomfortable if you stare. But, yes, they did lose their leg or, you know, yes, they do look a little different. We can talk about that later. You know, you wouldn’t want somebody staring at you.” I think when you explain it way, it’s fair. But I think, also, smaller kids, you know, they do ask. I happen to have vitiligo, so half my skin is brown and half my skin is white and I have kids come up to me all day long and say, “What’s wrong with you?” and they don’t say it in the nicest way. I’m thick-skinned about it, so it doesn’t bother me, but I do know other people who it would really bother them to know that everybody who sees them thinks they look funny.
So, I think that it really does depend on the person, but you do want to teach your child to be polite as well.
MELANIE: Now, talking about words, and we don’t have a lot of time, Dr. Cross, it’s such a really great topic. But when a child is watching what they say because, you know, there’s all kinds of words. The “N” word and the “K” word. There are all these things that kids can say and then they hear people get into political debate and they hear people get into religious debate. How do they respond without using some of these terrible words or getting angry or getting offended if somebody says, “I disagree with you.” How do you teach that?
DR. CROSS: I think what we have to do, and what I try to do with my children is I try to validate other cultures, other religions, other lifestyles. I try to say, “That might not be the way we are, but there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just as good. We’re Catholic. Somebody else might be Jewish. There’s no right or wrong. If we’re good Catholics; they’re good Jews. It’s perfectly fine.” You can validate everything, that just because we believe in something different, it doesn’t make what you believe less true. Everybody doesn’t have to believe what you believe for it to be true for you.
So, I think that’s really the basic tenet of co-existing is that you believe your thing, I can believe mine. We can both be happy that we’re both happy believing our own thing. So you have to validate what somebody else believes, not say, “What we believe is right. What they believe is wrong.” But you have to validate and you have to teach co-existence and in the end, you have to really…Kids know this. Kids realize this--that we are more similar than we are different. You know, kids will be like, “Hey! He’s my best friend because we’re so much the same.” And, they look absolutely different. They come from different places, but, hey! According to the kids, they both like peanut butter, so they’re the same. You know? And I think that kids are really good at realizing the similarities and when we talk about it that way, it really drives it home.
MELANIE: It does and it’s such great information. Teaching our children the differences: genders, sexual orientations, race, religion, disabilities; all of these things we teach our children and that’s the best way. Teaching them tolerance.
This is Melanie Cole. You’re listening to Heathy Children right here on RadioMD.