How To Give Your Child a Multicultural Education
At what age is it appropriate to marry? What time of day do you eat your biggest meal? How often do you shower or wash your hair? Where in your home do your children sleep? These questions represent common aspects of every day life, and the answer you give to each is largely influenced by society and culture. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, our country is becoming increasingly diverse. Our children will grow to be adults in a nation filled with people who answer those questions with a wide variety of responses. We need to prepare our children for the world, by teaching them to not only tolerate–but to respect the many different ways that people choose to live. How do we teach our children to recognize and respect differences?
Here are some helpful tips for giving your child a multicultural education:
- Teach by example. Parents have a huge impact on their children’s views of themselves and others. Your actions and words will influence your child more than anyone else’s in the world. What you do and say around your child, even before they attend school, will impact their behavioral choices throughout their lifetime. If you want your child to respect people’s differences, you need to model how to do that—in both your words and actions. Eating junk food in front of your children teaches them it is okay to eat junk food—even if you tell them it’s bad to do so. Similarly, criticizing someone’s difference within earshot of your child teaches them it is okay to do so.
- Help your child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. People who don’t feel good about themselves usually don’t treat other people well. Ask your child to think about what makes her unique and then help her to feel good about her differences. Kids who are belittled at home often turn out to be bullies at school. Children who are respected at home tend to show respect to others.
- Acknowledge and respect differences in your own house, and in your community. Start small: “Your father doesn’t like peas, but you do—and that’s okay!” Expand your discussion to talk about what is unique about your family, your heritage, your culture. Help your child feel good about where he comes from, but remember to acknowledge that not all families are the same—and that is okay. The world would be a very boring place if every family was exactly the same!
- Allow honest discussions. Talk about what your child sees and hears. Explain what a stereotype is and reinforce the idea that while people are people, everyone is also unique. Answer their questions honestly. Kids sometimes ask very direct questions: Mommy, why is that girl wearing clothes in the swimming pool? How come that man’s skin is so black? Why can’t I understand what that lady is saying? Take the time to answer each question truthfully and respectfully.
- Select books, toys, art, music and other media that represent a wide variety of cultures. It is important for kids to see themselves, both in media and in their toys; but it is also important for them to see other cultures. These days it is easy to find international film clips and music videos on the Internet. Watch some YouTube videos together and talk about what you see. Read books together about a variety of cultures (for book suggestions, see this wonderful list at PragmaticMom.com)
- Interact with people of different cultures. Visit ethnic restaurants or grocery stores. Look for local cultural events—dances, block parties, performances. See if there are museums or libraries nearby that exhibit cultural artifacts and visit them (sometimes banks, cafés, and jewelers also sponsor exhibits that are free and open to the public.)
- Learn about and celebrate world holidays. People celebrate differently all over the world. Celebrations often include a variety of crafts, foods, music and rituals. Choose some holidays to learn about by researching on the Internet or at your local library and then plan a celebration! (For a list of holidays and observances, check out this site from http://www.timeanddate.com.)
- Travel. Visiting other cultures is the most effective way for children to learn about those cultures. If your family has the means to travel abroad, take advantage of that life-changing opportunity! However, many of us cannot afford to travel so far from home. If it is not possible to go abroad, look for overnight or daytrips in your area that offer your children the opportunity to see a slice of life that is different from their own. For example, if you live in an urban community, visit a rural farming town, and vice versa. Any exposure to a different way of life will increase your child’s cultural awareness.