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?