It’s one of those blistering hot Oklahoma days. The weatherman says the temperature is going to top 100°, but you don’t care. You’ve rounded up the kids, slathered on the sunscreen and headed to the neighborhood pool.
Your youngsters are splashing away and you’ve just read the first page of the novel you bought yesterday. Your outing is pretty close to paradise. Then a dripping child appears at your side. “Mommy, we have to go now.”
“But, we just got here. You haven’t even gone down the slide yet.” “We can’t stay. A girl just got in the pool and… some of her is missing.”
You glance over and see that a handicapped girl is sitting all alone in the kiddie area, a spot that was swarming with kids only a minute ago.
Situations like this provide us with a unique opportunity to talk with our children about tolerance and compassion. Tolerance recognizes that other people are sometimes different, but those differences don’t have to be a barrier.
Compassion means looking beyond our situation to see the needs of another and render comfort. “Think about how hard it must be for her to play in the pool with just one arm. And how brave she is to come here when some people might not want to play with her because she’s different.”
By urging your child to look at the situation from a different perspective, you plant the seeds of tolerance and compassion. With the nurturing guidance of a good example, those "seeds” can help your child grow into a thoughtful and caring person who sets aside her own prejudices in favor of the feelings of others. When we look within ourselves to face situations with compassion and tolerance, it is easier to see that the things that make us different are often small compared with the things we have in common.
An excellent middle school novel that illustrates compassion and tolerance is Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Set on Alcatraz in 1935, the book focuses on 12-year-old Moose Flanagan, son of a prison guard. For a few years, the warden insisted the guards and their families live on the island. Against this backdrop, Moose takes care of his autistic older sister, Natalie, and struggles to fit in with the other kids. Best of all, this book weaves the positive character traits into a very compelling story. I recommend reading it along with kids 10 and up so you can talk about it together.
Gayleen Rabakukk is a freelance writer who spends her time in Edmond keeping up with her teenage and preschool daughters.