In a multiethnic country like India, it is important for your child to grow up with an understanding of different cultures. It is inevitable that he will meet people from different cultural backgrounds at school and workplace in the future. In such situations, prior knowledge of different cultures will help your child break the communication barrier and interact with others. It will also aid in the all-round development of his personality.
So, as a parent, what steps should you take to raise your child’s awareness and acceptance of cultural differences? Here are some suggestions.
1. Respect everyone, irrespective of their cultural background
Children do not have any preconceived notions about culture. They pick up cues from the attitude of their parents or adults they encounter regularly. So, before you try to teach your child to respect other cultures, make sure you do so yourself. Ask yourself questions about diversity and challenge any stereotypes that you may have in your mind. Notice how your child talks when she refers to people from other cultural backgrounds. Do you detect any traces of stereotyped thinking? If yes, think if she could have picked this up from her surroundings or from latent media messages. Also, make sure you never make comments that denigrate people from a community, even in jest.
2. Acknowledge and understand differences between cultures
Understanding the differences between cultures is important. However, this does not mean that you should be blind to the differences. Dr Christopher J Metzler, a leading academic and expert on inclusion and diversity based in Florida, explains this point in an article titled ‘Teaching Children About Diversity’, published in PBS Parents. He explains the importance of not pretending that differences do not exist, as doing so will defeat the very purpose of teaching children to accept differences.
3. Explore other cultures
It’s always fruitful to learn about other cultures. Get your child to watch documentaries about the history of different cultures. Make him watch movies him that depict cultural integration, provided they are age-appropriate. Popular children’s movies from other languages with subtitles or dubbed into your language are a great way of learning about different cultures. If you go on a family trip to another state, make sure learning about the culture of that place tops your agenda. Also, visit cultural clubs of other communities in your city, whenever you can. Look for opportunities to get to know about their history, art, music, etc. You may also try cooking various dishes from different cultures along with your child.
4. Maximise interaction with people from other cultures
Talking to people from other communities who stay in your neighbourhood will reveal several aspects of their cultural values. This way, you will be able to find and appreciate common ground between your respective cultures as well as the differences. Take part in their festivals and other cultural celebrations along with your child and invite them to your own. This will create great opportunities for cultural bonding and exchange of knowledge.
Following these tips will not only help you broaden your child’s outlook (and your own!) but also teach her to respect and accept the differences that exist between different cultures.