Give your little ones a sense of identity and pride in their unique heritage.
When I was pregnant with my first child four years ago, I set about doing what most soon-to-be-mums keep themselves busy with – over-googling everything (who hasn’t studied what to do with newborns, sleep training, etc?!). But I also found myself researching how to raise a multicultural kid. I am Filipino, my husband is American and we live in Hong Kong. And I realised that there wasn’t much written about the situation we found ourselves in.
So I dived into the research and I hope that the things I found out can help other parents of multicultural kids too.
Third Culture Kids vs Multicultural Kids
In the late ’80s and ’90s, the term Third Culture Kids (or TCK) came into mainstream use. Much has been written about Third Culture Kids who have been defined as: “Children who spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland.” – Ruth Hill Useem.
The term TCKs seems to have a more lost and melancholic ring of not belonging. Some literature would describe these children as confused, having a debilitative condition, and confronted by cultural walls and pitfalls. Children who are not able to completely relate to their parent’s culture but are considered different from the culture they are growing up in can leave them in an odd state of limbo (enough to put my newly-sharpened impending motherhood signals on high alert!).
In the 2000s, research introduced the idea of biculturalism or multiculturalism, which involves combining and synthesising aspects of two or more cultures into a unique blend. Something that we see happen naturally with many families living in Hong Kong, where it’s widely accepted. Plus, globalisation and the internet have also changed how multicultural families and their kids live today.
But despite the acceptance, parents of multicultural kids, like myself, are faced with a great challenge: how am I going to make sure that my kids not only learn about their varied heritage but would also grow to love and be proud of it? What I have found is that though it takes a bit of work, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
The 5 Cs Of Cultural Learning
First, multicultural kids need to learn more about their heritage cultures. Here are five key ways to do that:
Conversations with kids are the best way for them to learn. So, as always, it starts with you, the parents. Believe it or not, kids like learning more about their parents, so don’t be afraid to share stories about what it was like growing up. Parents who are more intentional in sharing the different cultural aspects of their identities help their children become more aware of their own heritage, and grow to learn and value different parts of themselves.
Build on your kids’ interests and work in language and culture through things that are already familiar to them or in your immediate context. Or let them take the lead, show them things about the culture and see what intrigues them.
Multiculturalism almost always includes bilingualism. There are many unexpected advantages that are now linked to talking to your children in more than one language. Bilinguals are said to have better attention and focus, plus greater empathy, mental flexibility and multitasking skills.
Having an extended family that lives and breathes your home culture would be the most ideal way to help kids learn but, for most of us living abroad, this can be challenging. Thanks to the internet though, there are ways we can build our own cultural villages. Find local family groups or form your own and have regular get-togethers. Regular calls home are also a great way for kids to keep in touch with family and get exposed to the language. For older kids, spending summers or holidays with relatives is a great way to cement learning.
The biggest challenge is making sure you are regularly exposing your kids to their home cultures. When you live outside your home country, it’s easy for school, errands, and life in general, to take over. If possible, find ways to incorporate learning into your daily routine.
Incorporate Cultural Learning Into Your Daily Routine
Taking the points discussed above, there are ways to apply this cultural learning every day. Here are five easy ideas, though you will be able to devise your own methods as well.
Make a game of it
Children learn and enjoy the process when they are playing and interacting naturally. To encourage interactions and conversation between yourself and your kids, teach them a traditional game or do some craft activity that celebrates something about your home culture. Work in stories of your childhood or a fond memory related to it.
Look for learning opportunities in context
As mentioned earlier, always watch out for what your children enjoy and use that while teaching them something. Do your kids love tram rides? Schedule a weekly one and speak only your home language the whole way. Do you need to get a meal ready and have kids who are interested in cooking? Let them help you prepare a traditional meal – from shopping for ingredients, all the way to preparing it in the kitchen.
Aim for multi-sensory experiences
Celebrating holidays are a good way to start. It’s a good chance to practice traditions, put up the decorations, sing songs, learn dances, and – the best part – eat authentic food!
Repeat, repeat and repeat
If you’re aiming for consistency, you have to make cultural learning part of your daily routine. Books are an easy place to start. Read a few books from your home culture as part of your bedtime routine. Incorporate a nursery rhyme or song during your drive to/from school.
Choose materials that the children can see themselves in
Always keep an eye out for podcasts, book, videos, etc. that celebrate your home culture and or multicultural kids. Share news articles about someone from back home or something they can relate to and identify with.
Build Your Own Family Culture
Remember that culture is not just what we usually think of it as – folktales, traditions, songs, art and food. Culture is a living and continuously evolving thing. It is, at its essence, what we do every day. To make our multicultural kids proud of where they come from starts with understanding that each of the cultures they come from is what makes them who they are (i.e. special). And it is our hope that they can one day use their unique world view to make a difference!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2020 and updated in February 2021.