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Helping Children Understand Other Cultures

Our world's survival may depend on better understanding of both the interconnectedness and diversity of its people. Parents have the best opportunity to help their children develop respect for other cultures, and to teach their children how to deal with the prejudice of others. Recognizing diversity of families becomes more important as family roles and expectations are being transformed worldwide. While people are experiencing these changes, they are struggling to retain their traditions and heritage.

What can you, the parent, do to help your children understand and respect other cultures? Telling children that prejudice is bad is not enough. Through your own attitudes and actions, show that cultural diversity is a positive and natural part of life. Although you have customs and values that are important to you, acknowledge that others' customs and values are valid for them.

Here are some ways to promote tolerance for others, suggested by family psychologist John Rosemond and others:

  • Talk about differences among people with your child. Don't say, "People are all the same." Although we share some of the same needs and drives, people are different.
  • Remind your children that what's important about a person is what's inside, not outside. Help them look beyond the surface in understanding others.
  • A person's race, gender, or physical condition should never be the basis for ridicule or rejection.
  • Teach children to put themselves in another person's place and try to see life from that viewpoint.
  • Point out prejudice when it happens and discuss it with your children. Encourage them to speak up when they see someone, especially another child, being treated unfairly.
  • Discuss how certain cultural patterns have developed or have been influenced by such things as climate, history, condition of the land, inventions, language, literature, and art.
  • Take pride in your cultural heritage and share it with your children. Music is a good place to begin. For example, teachers found that the Mexican children of Los Angeles seemed to have more self-esteem and pride in their cultural heritage after a local radio station changed their format to Musica de Ranchero (slow Mexican Country).
  • Visit museums, festivals, ethnic restaurants, and other places that expose your family to different customs and lifestyles.
  • Try to have direct contact with people whose cultures or lifestyles are different from your own. Children are less likely to fear what they know. Some churches, 4-H offices, and other organizations often arrange youth exchanges. These might be across town or around the world.
  • Introduce children to good books. Libraries have sensitively written books on topics that their classmates cope with daily.
  • Avoid stereotypes within your own family. Expect sons as well as daughters to help with household chores, such as laundry and dishes. Encourage daughters to excel at subjects, such as science and math, and to participate in sports.
  • Help your children develop self-confidence. Insecure people are more likely to be obsessed with conformity. Self-worth will also help children handle insults and bias from others.
  • Share with your children how you coped when treated unfairly. They need to understand there are some mean people in this world, but this meanness and ignorance has nothing to do with your child's worth.
  • Using a world map, play games such as "Name that Country."
  • You and your child might volunteer at a community center for another culture. Teach English, your special skill, or share a hobby.

Materials on global awareness and development may be obtained from the following publishers and publications. Check with your local librarian.

  • World Bank Publications
  • David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies
  • Brigham Young University
  • Foreign Policy Association
  • Oxford University Press
  • United Nations Publications

reprinted with the permission of the Ohio State University Extension


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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