Cultural Awareness in Children
"We must not only learn to tolerate our differences. We must welcome them as the richness and diversity which can lead to true intelligence" - Albert Einstein
As parents of young children, many of us have had our innocent young ones ask questions about others in public that have made us feel embarrassed. Such questions could range from "Why are they of different colour?" or "why are they wearing strange clothes or speaking a language that we can't understand?". We often react by saying that they should not be asking such questions and apologising on their behalf.
It is natural for children to observe differences in the way people look, dress or behave. When they see something different, they ask questions to satisfy their curiosity, even though this might be at the most inopportune moment.
As parents, we can start objective conversations about cultural awareness in children from an early age. One way to initiate this is by asking them questions like, "Would you like only one type of flower in a garden or a variety of them?" or "would you rather have fish tank with one type of fish or a variety with different colours and sizes?". All such examples can be related to people they see around them that they perceive as different. Tell them that they are all humans as them and in no way different outside of how they might appear.
Here are a few tips to develop cultural awareness in children:
Encourage your children to read about Diversity
There are some great children literature that provides cultural awareness in children at an early age. For example, Same, Same But Different - Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (cultural and geographical diversity); It’s Okay to be Different- Todd Parr (diversity and acceptance); The Skin You Live In - Michael Tyler (social and cultural acceptance); Don’t Call Me Special - Pat Thomas (awareness of physical disabilities); and The Family Book - Todd Parr (diversities of families).
Promote Interest in different Cultures
Encourage your children to research and learn about different culture, ethnicity, race, culture, geography, food and language. Get them to locate in a world map to see where they come from, what language they speak, research their history and culture. Ask them what they would like to see if they visit a country.
Experience the Culture
Help your children to find opportunities to experience different culture through food, festival, music, movies, costumes. Encourage friendship and association with people from diverse backgrounds to get first hand experiences of their culture and heritage.
Speak the Language
Encourage your child to speak a few words to a person in their language, like 'Hi', 'what is your name?', 'how are you', 'thank you', 'have a good day', etc. This will show warmth to the person you are speaking with and earn your child respect and appreciation for the effort.
Tolerance and Respect for Diversity
It is important to educate your child that they might sometimes experience people treating others badly. While this might not always be the case, it could be because they look different, or have different cultural beliefs or be of a different gender. This is not right and strongly unacceptable. There are good and bad humans in all cultures or backgrounds. It is important that children learn about people from their values and actions rather than from their appearance and background.
Role Model Tolerance to Diversity
As parents, we should role model openness and tolerance to diversity without prejudice and biases due to personal experiences, so that the child can experience new culture and people with open mind.
The world is definitely getting visibly smaller as we see people moving around the world to broaden their horizons through work, study, tourism, sports and other opportunities. In conclusion, it is extremely important that cultural awareness in children is encouraged so that they can integrate and assimilate with others they are exposed to through work, study or travels and live in this global village.