My kids are at the age where they’re really starting to notice everything. They’re so observant. And curious. And it’s really fun seeing their little wheels turning all the time, and any time they see anything or anyone “different” they (usually not so discretely) point it out and they want to know all about it. And I love this. They’re becoming more aware that not everything or everything is like they know it or like them. It’s a beautiful awareness. And the other thing that strikes me as so beautiful, is that they’re still in the stage where they can be curious and notice, without being judgmental about it. They don’t have the pride, arrogance, or context for judgment. They’re living in this really special place of noticing, asking, being curious, and just kinda letting that be without the need to place judgment on it.
And that’s open-mindedness, right? It’s the ability to notice and consider things that are different – and then reach for curiosity rather than judgment. It’s hearing someone out who you’re not sure you agree with at first. It’s knowing your identity so that you’re not swayed by everything going on around you or coming at you. It’s the embodied belief that we’re all sovereign beings entitled to express ourselves how we prefer – hairstyles and colors, clothes, music we listen to, politics, our careers, and hobbies, how we choose to raise our kids – we’re all allowed to do it differently, and rather than being judgmental about how others are doing it differently, we can reach for curiosity and want to know more. Or consider why. Or just simply appreciate the beauty and necessity of diversity.
An open-minded person doesn’t dwell so much on the past because any mistakes they made are viewed by them as an opportunity for betterment. Furthermore, open-minded person doesn’t get caught up in the details of the future because they see an abundance of possible outcomes. This leads the open-minded person to embrace the present and appreciate all of the beautiful moments as they unfold.
So I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to share some ideas I had about ways we can encourage our kids to stay open-minded. Because for the most part, I think they naturally are, and then as they grow and are influenced by others and us, they fall into this mindset that certain things are the right way to do them.
1. Celebrate diversity
Diversity of all kinds, right?! When it comes to diversity, I think the first step is really exposure. Yes, exposing them to different races and cultures and backgrounds, but also different foods, different activities, different social settings, different holidays, different books and music and art. Encourage them to have friends who aren’t like them. And friends, we can help frame the paradigm here. Within the diversity our kids are experiencing, we can point out the beauty. We can focus on the good. We can engage curiosity and wonder and creativity.
The more they know about the world around them, the more likely they are to approach it with an open mind.
And part of celebrating diversity is pointing out and denouncing prejudices and stereotypes. They are everywhere. Television, music, toys, and everyday events, when we notice it is important to show it to our children. Or if we hear you say something hurtful or lock someone into a stereotype, say so. Talk about it. Certain types of people are not illegal.
Mini-marts are not run by the same kind of people. Certain ethnicities are not all cheap. Everybody who lives in a city or in the suburbs or in the middle of America or whatever is not all the same. But that’s what you’re probably going to see and hear. Help them question things like this. Just asking “is this really true?” is one of the most powerful questions we can help our children get into the pattern of thinking.
If we can help teach them to think critically and teach them to hold loosely to the things they think are real or true – just encouraging them to change positions, change their minds – it fosters such humility that no one knows it all or has it all figured out or does it “right” – so we can be open to differences and diversity. And for critical thinking friends, the next time your kids ask you a question instead of just answering, we can plant the seeds of curiosity and open-mindedness. What do you think? Why do you think they might do that or prefer that? Let’s read about it. Let’s talk to them. Let’s ask why that’s important to them.
Open-mindedness comes hand-in-hand with logical thinking. Intolerance and racism – I’m not an expert, but I think one of the main roots is ignorance. Like just thinking we know when we really have no idea. Or the fear that comes with ignorance. Ignorance and fear go hand in hand too. So we can teach our kids to learn to think for themselves. They don’t have to grow up believing each and everything they hear from other kids, their teachers, or even us. They should be able to evaluate statements, analyze the facts, and create their own opinions about everyone and everything, rather than just relying on ideas presented by others. If you want your children to be open-minded, they should be independent thinkers.
2. Teach them how to listen
Of the three points I wanted to make today, I think this is the most crucial one. The art of listening. We want our kids to be open-minded, they’ve got to be able to listen to someone else’s story, someone else’s opinions, and someone else’s perspective without immediately tuning out, judging, thinking they know better, or formulating their response as they wait for the other person to finish speaking so they can prove them wrong or teach them the ”right” way.
They can’t be open-minded if they can’t listen. They can’t explore anything differently if they can’t listen. They can’t consider if they can’t listen – if they’re so closed off to anything different.
And teaching them how to hold that space (mostly by holding it ourselves and having them watch us) – that kind of listening to someone else’s concerns, desires, dreams, fears, and struggles will remind you that there is more to your life than what you see from your own perspective. And there’s so much more going on beneath the surface of every person and situation if we’ll only take the interest to listen. Curiosity over judgment. Compassion over judgment. It’s an understanding of how limited our own understanding truly is! All of us are so blind – our vision is so skewed by our own life experiences and upbringings. So much so that it can be really hard to even see the paradigms we unconsciously hold. Unless we make an effort to tune in to others, we’re limited to our own narrow version of the world. We live so freaken small.
3. Check ourselves – are we open-minded?
We can be really aware of how we approach and talk about diversity. I invite you to expand your own paradigm of diversity. Don’t overstate the obvious, race isn’t the only thing that makes us diverse. How about the way your in-laws do certain things? What about the kids in your child’s class with green hair? What about the traditions of other families? What about your living situation? What about your opinions on the choices other people make, like your friend allowing her kids’ unlimited screen time or eating food she wouldn’t dare feed her kids, maybe she’s rolling her eyes, but comment on this. Out loud or in your head? Because if so, it is likely that you are critical and not fostering an open mind.
Being open mint also includes our family. Let’s respect the individuality of our children, resist comparison, and avoid “should”. Once we are aware of it, I think we see how often we fall for these things. What our children should be playing with. What should they be interested in? How they should look. The friends they should have. The food they should eat. The instruments they should play. The clothes they should wear.
If we really want to bring up independent, open-minded kids, don’t try to push them into stereotypes such as, “girls should play with dolls” “girls have long hair, girls wear dresses.” None of this is true. Same with our boys – pushing these gender stereotypes can actually cause quite toxic masculinity or femininity. So let’s let our kids be and stop should-ing all over them. If your son wants to take a dance class – amazing! Your daughter is super into robots – yes! Your son is obsessed with baking cupcakes – fantastic.
The more we celebrate their diversity, their uniqueness – the more we help them to celebrate that in others. The difference isn’t bad and it doesn’t have to be scary. Different is what makes the world go round.
Also, we’ve gotta stop telling our kids things like “I know better,” or “Because I said so.” That really shuts down logical, independent thinking. It really shuts down autonomy. It shuts down exploration. It narrows their thinking – narrows their minds. I know it might be hard for us, but to raise your child to be open-minded, they have to be encouraged to question others and themselves – what they actually hold as true. So next time you’re tempted to just tell them because I said so, or that’s just the way it is, when they’ve asked a million questions, try to resist that urge and help them explore and come to their own conclusions.
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