Raising cross-cultural kids: Know thyself

Whether in an apartment with kids from a dozen countries, or in the United States in one of the least diverse school districts around, we have made it our intention to raise cross-culturally aware kids.  This month we’ll be posting weekly tips on how to foster cross-cultural and interracial sensitivity in your kids–and your self.

Rain boots, lacy jean skirt, and scraggly sweatshirt? Wear it proud, girl.

Tip #2: Know Thyself

As parents, our natural first priority is to pass on our own traditions, values, habits, and core beliefs to our children.  Culture rubs off on our children constantly, often without our ever noticing it.  If we shriek when we see a mouse, the child learns that in our culture we dislike mice.  If we point out to a child that a mountain view is beautiful, the child learns that we enjoy this view of nature.  In some other cultures, people give to their children very different perspectives about mice or mountains.  The same is true of everything from the way we dance to the food we eat for breakfast.

These countless clues are essential for giving a child the means to cope in the world.  It’s not wrong to appreciate who you are.  Be aware of your uniqueness, and teach your children to be proud of their heritage.  Create traditions, tell stories, eat foods, and celebrate holidays that pass on your culture.  Home should be a place where children know who they are and that they are securely loved.  As they grow, they will naturally make their own choices—some that you will dislike—but you will have given them a foundation from which they can start exploring.

As children get older, discuss what styles of clothing, toys, and behavior other kids their age enjoy, and teach them that they need to make choices for themselves in these areas.  Help them feel confident and secure in the kind of styles they choose for themselves, rather than what everyone else does.

Then learn to pay attention to others. 

Every culture operates with different patterns of behaviour, attitudes, and perspectives.  For example, a child making eye contact with an adult in some cultures is giving respect, whereas in other cultures this behaviour is a strictly forbidden challenge to authority.  Try to notice these differences.  You will lower your chances of offending someone and will also find ways to make others more comfortable around you.

We can easily see differences such as clothing styles or language, but a person’s culture affects roots far deeper than the surface level.  When interacting with people of another culture, ask yourself questions like: How open do they tend to be with personal information?  What are the roles of parents and authority figures?  What are their discipline styles?  How frequently do they smile and laugh?  Do they live surrounded by noise, or silence?  How do they resolve arguments?  Often these questions go unanswered until they create a problem.

The more you understand these deep patterns of thought, the less you unfairly judge the choices people make. Knowing yourself allows you to recognize how you differ from others in the world and respond to those differences with appreciation and respect rather than fear and rejection.

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