Zero Tolerance For Zero Tolerance

I have a 7 year old daughter who takes ballet every Tuesday. She doesn’t like when I watch, so I don’t (until the last 5 minutes, because then it’s too late for her to get mad at me). The dance recital is next week, so right now the class is working on perfecting their moves. Some of the kids are pretty good, some are OK and some are all over the place—but what struck me was everyone was just doing their thing, and doing their best. No one was rolling their eyes if a leap was off, and no one made a big deal if someone was a step behind.

When class was over, I started chatting with one of the teachers about how great it is that the kids in that class are totally tolerant of one another. He said that as kids get older, unfortunately, that usually changes.

I get that. With dance, as kids progress, the choreography becomes less “cute” and more serious—it’s not always going to be as OK to be a step behind. But still, it makes me sad that some kids are hard on other kids (probably the kids who can’t keep up) because I would think that in most any given situation, the “stars” will still shine regardless of how the other kids are doing. In fact, they might even shine more.

But you know how kids are. They don’t know how things work. I see it all the time at camp. (My husband is a director at an overnight camp for kids so we live there during the summer.) I have noticed as kids get older, they become less tolerant. The cool thing about camp though, is that everyone gets a chance to slow down and truly appreciate their surroundings. And that includes the people surrounding them.

At camp, kids get a good dose of time management because there are things they have to be on time for: Meals, Activities, Flag Pole,  Milk and Cookies (especially milk and cookies or I will eat them all). But punctuality and independence are not the only skills kids develop at camp—they also learn to connect in new ways, they learn to work as a unit, and they learn to tolerate others. These are values they learn whether they want to or not. They have no other choice. It’s camp.

Kids who act a little “different” at home might not be accepted at school, but they have a place at camp. And they should. There is no reason for any kid at camp not to be nice to another kid, I don’t care how weird the kid is. Who are you that you can’t hang with that kid? You think you’re so cool? YOUR FLY’S DOWN! And yes, that kid might be a little weird, but you need to accept him for who he is. No one is telling you to make him a BFF lanyard, but if he lands next to you at dinner, just deal.

I love that the kids at camp are forced to tolerate and connect with others in their peer group. That’s a very important skill. Some of the kids are bare bones and they tolerate just enough not to get stuck “having a talk” with me, but some of them actually celebrate the kids who are a little different. They include them and embrace them.

The kids who do that, those are the smart kids. They know that the ones who are a little “different” are also the ones who make a difference. The kids who are “different” are the ones we learn from, and usually the ones we end up working for.

Don’t rule out the weirdos, yo. They’re the ones to watch.

The camp dynamic is such that even when that time in our life is over, we are still (and always) bound by something bigger that holds us together no matter the amount of time, the distance, or the differences in personalities. If you have that history, that intense living experience, it’s binding and it’s forever.

But every kid doesn’t get to go to overnight camp. So what do you do if your kid isn’t able to experience that kind of communal living and an invisible thread that holds everyone together? How else can they learn tolerance?

Well, there are a few ways:

1. You can join a cult. But I’m not recommending that. That never seems to end well.

2. You can teach at home.

Home is a safe place where the atmosphere isn’t competitive, it‘s collaborative, so home seems like a good place to start. A good kid usually comes from a good home. Kids listen to their parents, even if they pretend not to, and as parents, it’s on us to talk to our kids about how to treat others. It’s on us to show them how to be tolerant by being tolerant ourselves.

We come into contact every day with people who aren’t so easy. Most everyone has their moments, and some people are straight-up annoying. It would be nice if we all held on a little bit longer to the mentality we had when we were younger—that mentality of complete acceptance and utter obliviousness—but it gets harder as we get older, we have to make more of an effort.

And sometimes it’s work.

But if our kids see us doing it, maybe they will do it too. Zero tolerance for zero tolerance.

Gotta start somewhere, right?


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