A cultural identity is about the feeling of belonging to a particular cultural group or community. To achieve a positive cultural identity the child needs to feel comfortable within one’s culture and language. However, growing up with more than one cultural background can be confusing and it might be difficult for intercultural children to find a place where they feel they belong to. It is possible to feel at home in more than a single culture but for understanding oneself and appreciating one’s background, one must have knowledge of the parents’ cultures. The certainty of knowing their heritage helps children in multiple ways.
It was psychologist Erik Erikson who wrote in 1968 that a person’s identity development works through the interaction with others. The first influencing people are parents who are followed later in life by other members of the community and society. As the first closer point of interaction, parents play an important role in supporting the child’s healthy sense of self. By sending positive messages of one’s cultural background parents can help the child develop a positive and strong identity.
Teaching the child both parents’ languages is a useful way to immerse children within both cultures. Communicating with your children in both of the parents’ mother tongues supports the children to become bilingual but although language has been seen as a gateway to culture, supporting the child's cultural identity works also through other aspects than language. To help children understand where they come from, parents should also tell the children about their heritage which may or may not be done in both parents’ native languages.
Supporting the child’s identity can be as simple as telling about one’s cultural history, traditions and customs. For example, parents could teach their children about their culture’s cuisine, religion or important events. Also, staying connected with the relatives is a great way for the child to understand more about one’s background as they most likely have a lot of stories to tell. Often grandparents are more aware about cultural habits and beliefs which make them a valuable source of information. Children love to hear stories and sharing stories and experiences of both parents’ cultures helps children to achieve a positive cultural identity as they do not learn only about their family but also more about themselves.
For the child’s well-being it is important that the parents view their culture in a positive light. For example, parents could think what cultural traditions made them happy when they were children or what do they value the most about their own culture at the given moment. If these questions seem hard to answer, one could study one’s own, and also the other parent’s culture together, by such activities as going to an ethnic restaurant, learning about culture through movies, attending cultural events, or listening to traditional music. Besides exposing the children to your culture, familiarizing with the partner’s culture will also help to prevent misunderstandings.
In any case, studying both cultures through practical activities such as visiting your home country, watching movies in the native language or teaching children about the games you used to play or songs you used to sing as a child, is likely to be a fun way for the family to spend time together. Whatever the child’s age, if the child is asking about traditional food or language it is only an advantage to share your knowledge with them.
By having knowledge of their heritage, intercultural children become more able to assess which aspects of their cultural backgrounds they want to embrace as part of their own identity. Although parents might have ideas about how they would want the child to balance the two cultures, it is important to let the child absorb the parts of the culture that for him or her seem the dearest. Appreciating their cultural background helps the children to support their self-esteem and mental well-being. When a child has a positive cultural identity, he also has a more positive view on life.
As the parents teach the child about their culture they can help in securing the transition of cultural knowledge from generation to generation. This way parents can offer the child a more enriched life which will make the child appreciate different cultures and develop positive attitudes towards cultural differences. As a parent, you can help to contribute towards a society which embraces cultural diversity.
Question: What do you do to introduce your culture to your child?
Parenting practices and taking care of children: Cultural differences? (Duo's online lecture 29.4.2014)
(This online lecture was not recorded, but you can read the summary of the lecture here and download the lecture handouts.)
Although psychological research aims to understand the preconditions for healthy child development much of our knowledge about parenting and child development come from industrialized middle-class contexts in Western countries. Research thus ignores the “Majority world’s” children who live outside these specific minority societies. However, parenting and infant development are always embedded in the cultural and physical environment where families live in and affected by the families’ living conditions. Therefore the bias in research greatly limits our knowledge about what is “normal child development or “good parenting” worldwide.
Even though parenting practices vary across different cultures and times, parents all over the world want what they think is best for their children. The parental concepts and ideas, conscious and unconscious, are connected to wider cultural values and sociopolitical factors. Therefore differences in parenting practices are not random but have their own internal logic and meaning.
Parental values and ideas are also connected to the way parents take care of their children and to the way they interact with them. For example, the importance of interpersonal relationships (i.e., getting along with others and being a respected member of the group), is related to the characteristics parents want their children to develop (i.e., learning to take care of others) and therefore to parenting practices (i.e., parents teach the child to control own his/her own emotions and to share with others).
The specific parenting practices also affect child development. Accordingly, cross-cultural studies show important variation in the way children acquire motor, emotional, and cognitive skills that stem from successful adaption into different sociocultural contexts. In two-culture and in immigrant families children’s adaptation to the host culture may sometimes cause surprises and raise questions, as the children may behave in a way the parents do not consider appropriate or good.
We all have thoughts and behavioral models that are affected by the environment(s) in which we grew up and live, and there is no one right way to raise children. In two-culture families parents should first and foremost be aware of their own parenting beliefs and values before taking an interest in the partner’s views. Finally, in all families parenting is affected by many other factors than just cultural background. For example, parents’ personalities, formal education, past experiences, and current life situation always play a central role in parenting practices.
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