My International 8 Year Old... Sushi, Dreidels, Bindis and Foie Gras!
Children are fine mimics of their parents. Since they want to be just like Mommy or Daddy (until they hit their teens anyway) you have a golden opportunity to broaden their horizons. I want my children to grow up with understanding and respect for different ways of living in our multicultural world to prepare them for life as an adult. They will encounter people from all walks of life, from all over the globe and what would make the proudest mom ever, is to know that my children learn to treat everyone with respect and compassion. That differences should be enjoyed and celebrated for the color, spice and variety they add to world which would otherwise be boring if we all walked around exactly the same.
But how does a parent translate this thought into action? How in the world did I get my princess on board. Well, here’s where the fun begins.
Make Diversity "Normal"
Seek out schools with diversity. When it came time for Miss Panda to start in daycare we sought out a school which seemed to attract a diverse group of families as she herself fits into that “other” category when it comes to selecting ethnicity on a form. My foreign-born husband & I found a pre-K program which had not only Caucasian students which reflected my background, but also about 1/3 African American, and the remaining 1/3 which was a mixture of Latino, Chinese, Korean, Indian, one French child and several like my daughter bearing the “other” category. The more children encounter diversity in an everyday setting, the more it becomes a part of their "normal" routine.
- But my child goes to public/private school where the ethnic makeup is predominantly one group, what should I do? If you are in this situation, you can always seek out extracurricular activities & events with a more diverse ethnic makeup. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone as a parent. We frequently expect our children to “make new friends” but how often do we ask ourselves to do the same. Seeking out new experiences for your child may mean finding a new group of parents & making a few new friends yourself. Be brave!
Lead by Example
Seek out friendships and/or explore differences within existing friendships with your child. If you already have friends who are a different culture or religion – yay for you!! Even better if they also happen to have children as it makes it so much more natural. Spend time together, not just on special occasions, but those are nice too! Smaller get togethers are good if your child has questions, though it is good to speak with both your friend and your child that you are just learning about other cultures. You should coach your child about how to ask questions respectfully while emphasizing that is okay to curious but we need to always be respectful. That just because someone does something different from us it does not make it wrong. I.E. To someone who is Jewish or Muslim. I don’t know why you can’t just eat a porkchop? They are really tasty! Instruct your child to ask what it means to keep kosher or halal. Kids who make connections with other children of varying backgrounds will be better equipped to dispel myths “Asian parents never let their kids do anything but study.” Then your child might say, “But, I am friends with Chrissy Woo and her parents let her come over for playdates & sleepovers so that isn’t true.”
- For example, I happen to be blessed with an amazing pair of mom friends, one of which I have known since my high school days. I have since become friends with her lovely wife as well. I’ll call them --- Lucy & Susie. Not only are Lucy and Susie amazing friends and moms but have they have enabled me to really broaden my children's understanding of the world as they happen to be lesbians (as I am sure you guessed) and happen to be Jewish(bonus). I get a beautiful friendship, laughs, and “mom moments” and my kids get playdates, friendships and life lessons. Okay, so Little Bear just likes playing with cars (he's only two) but I think you get my point! If all your friends are exactly like you, moms, same ethnicity, same religion, etc – why don’t you go strike up a conversation with the mom that who seems to have the least in common with you the next time you are at the park and see what happens.
Passport to Your Plate
Explore new food! The younger you start this and the braver you are, the more likely little Johnny and little Joanie are to follow in your footsteps. I’d start with ethnic cuisine that you as parents already enjoy. My house has a “two-bite” rule for new food. Nobody has to eat an entire plate of a food they don’t like but they must take TWO decent sized bites, chew and swallow before they can proclaim “I don’t like it”. Because sometimes something make look or even smell a little funny but taste totally yummy! And sometimes it takes that second bite to confirm it. Also, if it has been more than 1 year, the 2-bite rule goes back into effect as tastes can change over time. Also, if you find something you think they will go for, have them “help” you in the preparation. Kids are way more willing to eat something, even a “new” something if they helped make it! And keep in mind, ethnic cuisine does not have to mean hot, spicy food. The food can be different and flavorful but if spicy food is not your thing there is plenty of ethnic cuisine with no heat! This is pretty important to keep in mind if you are going from typically bland American fare to more adventurous stuff.
- Is there a place that is your “go to” when eating out? Why not change that up? Make one night “passport” night instead and switch it up for something more inspiring. Plenty of options exist now for “on-the-go” food as well such as freshly prepared sushi rolls or the tons of Mexican fast food places. For something different for Chinese fare, try finding out the closest place that serves dim sum for brunch one weekend (hint: ask what each item is before selecting it)! Smaller family owned restaurants that are tucked away tend to be the best for great Indian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Thai, Moroccan, etc.
Watch Your words!
We all know the stereotypes so I am not to give them a further spotlight here. And let’s face it, in any given culture/race/religion at any point in time you can find at least one person who is going to fit that stereotype gloriously. Giving those that like to pin people into tidy categories 100% of the time their chance to say “Ah-ha, see… so and so fits the mold!”. But, what is important is whether or not you find yourself perpetuating those generalities. If we are honest, we will realize, that if we grew up hearing them, then we to will say them from time to time. Some people actually believe them and that is sad! What you need to do, is to make a conscious effort not to make those statements. Then, if you find that you slipped, whether or not it is in front of your child, own up to it and admit it isn’t true.
- Example: “__________ are such bad drivers!” Followed by, “Ok, that isn’t really true. I am just frustrated with THIS guy/girl.” While I am being honest here, I do say this one a lot but I not sure if it counts as I typically attribute the bad driving to out-of-state license plates. Still, I shall try to work on it, as it impossible for a whole state to have bad drivers!
Get Hip to Your Town
Museums are fun! Check out the museums in your nearest city. Chances are they have some really inspiring cultural exhibits. Many have special events or programs for children. One of my daughter’s favorite early reader books was called “Egyptian Gods & Goddesses”. I had taken her to see the Tutankhamen exhibit which she loved and then we purchased the book. About a month later we attended the Egyptian Festival at a local Coptic Christian church and sampled many tasty treats.
- Don’t forget your local scene. Many churches/temples/organizations hold festivals throughout the warmer months and will announce them. In addition to the Egyptian Festival, there are the Polish Festival, Italian Festa, Greek Festival, Ukrainian Festival & Celtic Classic all held on various weekends near my hometown. Surely, if you do a search you can find some interesting ones near you.
It's a Small World
The more technology and transportation advances the “smaller” the world becomes and the chances that your child will interact with a significantly broader group individuals is guaranteed. By giving them a different perspective early on where they can enjoy and embrace differences, you will equip them with lifelong skills that will set them ahead of their peers whose parents had a much more narrow world view. Happy exploring!