As a mother, it is funny to me when I hear myself saying things my grandmother used to say, such as ‘nowadays things are not the same’ as I sigh reminiscing about my childhood. The reality is that nothing is like it used to be, for more than one reason, and we need to prepare our children to live in a complex world. Raising culturally aware kids is a must for any parent, but especially for those of us parenting in a society that is quickly changing and is need of greater understanding.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was never in direct contact with people from other countries. However, my father loved music and American and British bands were usually on the radio. From the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix to Santana, rock and pop of the 60s, 70s and 80s were as common as salsa and merengue in our home. Along with that were the amount of telenovelas I watched from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela to complete my cultural exposure. I think I can safely say that I was one of the culturally aware kids of my time, at least in the Dominican Republic.
Fast-forward to 2017, my children have the great opportunity of growing up in the United States where is easy to meet people from other cultures on a daily basis. However, it is very important for me to guide and teach my children, so they can be culturally aware kids who are sensitive, empathic, friendly and open minded. Many might think that this is only important for people of color, but I’m here to tell you this is needed globally, and the sooner the better.
In a world that seems to be ever more contentious about cultural differences and nationalities, raising culturally aware kids is an imperative if we want to raise a world with less violence and more prosperity. As parents, we know that we have the power to change our world by changing the citizens of the future and today it is evident we need a shift in direction if we want to create societies that prosper and live in peace. Much of the violence we see comes from intolerance and lack of knowledge about other cultures, from the fear of the unknown.
Let’s commit to parenting the next generation of peacekeepers, bridge builders and connectors by giving the gift of understanding through knowledge.
Culturally Aware Kids: 5 Parenting Tips
- Be A Cultural Ambassador. I always tell people who have a different background and are raising kids in the United States that they are their children’s main cultural landmark when it comes to their country of origin and culture. In order to raise culturally aware kids the awareness has to start with their own cultural background. Teaching children about your own culture (-or cultures- if your partner has a different background) is very important to give them a foundation that makes them proud. Having a strong sense of identity is going to help kids to appreciate the beauty of other cultures while being empowered in what their own culture has to offer.
- Choose School Wisely & Be Involved. Depending on where you live, you may -or may not- have the option to send your kids to a diverse school. If you have that choice, make sure you pick a bilingual program if they have one as different schools around the US offer dual programs in different languages. In case there are not diverse schools available, your involvement is going to be even more important to bring some cultural diversity to the table by suggesting books, helping to organize activities and especially participate in your kids classroom to help her classmates to learn more about your own culture.
- Engage Them In A Non-Traditional Cultural Activity. While it may seem like the choices for extracurricular activities are all the same (ballet, tap, basketball, baseball, etc.), if you are determined to look for different options, you might find activities you’d never known by just going with what is evidently available. For example, my daughter belongs to a Mexican Folk Dance group and she loves it. Even though we are Dominican, I want her to experience the richness and difference in the colors and rhythms of Mexico as a way to expand her view of the world around her. My boy is about to start soccer practice, and if you know anything about Dominicans, and my family, you’d know that baseball runs through our veins. These experiences are not only going to make them culturally aware kids, it will also help them respect and appreciate different people, things and perspectives.
- The Gift Of Travel. Traveling is one of those things that enriches a person’s life in many different ways. If you are able to take your kids overseas to experience a different culture, do it. For big families like mine, however, it might be harder to travel internationally due to the costs. Don’t let that discourage you! Living in the United States gives you the unique opportunity to immerse yourself in other cultures without having to leave the country. Plan road trips to see the national parks and teach your kids about the Native American tribes and their costumes. You can also visit a big city like New York or Chicago and take them to the different neighborhoods that give you a flavor of China, Italy, Colombia, India or any other country on the planet. It is just a matter of researching what you want to decide your ideal destination. Having culturally aware kids also means teaching them they live in a melting pot and that to be American means being multicultural. They’ll discover that they are not so different after all, because everyone is different and that’s what makes this country so special.
- A Day In The Life. A friend of mine, who has been a teacher for more than 20 years, gave me a great idea for cultural immersion without needing to leave the comfort of your home. This is a ‘staycation’ concept in which you prepare your house and take kids on a trip to a country of your choosing. You decorate the home the night before after they go to sleep, have passports ready (you can buy those at dollar stores), music, books, history and, of course, food from that country. You wake them up with a suitcase near their bed and invite them to travel with you to the selected country. The whole day you’ll eat the foods, read the books, dance to their music and can even watch a movie to teach them all that you can about that country. It will be fun, engaging and a great learning experience. A great idea to during the summer when you don’t have the pressure of homework or waking up early for school the next day.
The best part of raising culturally aware kids, to me, is that you learn and enjoy so much in the process of teaching them. It enhances your own knowledge and increases your appreciation for other cultures and love of diversity.
I’d love to hear from you: What are your tips for raising culturally aware kids?