Raising Culturally Sensitive Children

If you are going to take your children to places where they will be exposed to different cultures, you need to prepare them. Whenever I run into Americans that are visiting Europe I get excited, but there are certain things that Americans do that break my heart. With a little bit more education on a parent’s part, we could take several steps toward killing cultural arrogance and ignorance. I hope that is a goal you have for your family. It is definitely a priority in our family. I am really open to your opinions on this topic, and I would love to do a follow up article with everyone’s input. Here are just a few things we can teach our kids (and learn ourselves) about how to be more culturally sensitive, especially when we travel.

Raising Culturally Sensitive Children

The Bright Side

There are aspects to every culture that we will see as negative and positive. Instead of constantly pointing out the negative things, encourage your children to look for the positive things that they see and learn in the culture you are visiting. Maybe it’s the culture’s sense of community that impresses you, or their dedication to wearing bright colors. If you lead by example and avoid complaining, your children will notice that. If you tell them not to complain while you are constantly complaining they won’t listen. It’s like any other principle of parenting, if you tell them to do something and then do something else, eventually they will come to resent that rule, even if it is a good one.

New Culinary Adventures

Don’t assume you know anything about the local dishes. Do some research, and prepare to be surprised. Looking at a plate of bright red paprika spiced sausage will not prepare you for how delicious it is. In fact, looks can often be deceiving. Be adventurous, and again, teach your children not to complain publicly about food. That is a good rule anyway, because at some point you will eat with your children outside of your house, and you don’t want them to seem ungrateful. Let me rephrase that, you want to raise them to be grateful, even if they don’t appreciate the way something tastes, smells, or looks. One time at a private dinner where our family were the guests of honor, I looked down and my plate of food was looking back at me, literally. I had been served the face of the lamb that was to be our dinner, and the eye was still in place. In the US, most of us are not connected to how our food gets on our plates. We don’t slaughter our own meat, so we forget that the animals we eat at one point had a face and eye balls. But the face meat on the lamb was delicious. I would eat it again. No I didn’t eat the eye ball, even though some consider that good luck. My kids definitely noticed the eye ball, but apparently our hard work is paying off because not one of them commented about how gross or weird it was to have one on my plate. Is complaining about being given an animal’s entire face on your plate considered rude? Yes, absolutely. Don’t do it.

Teach Them Why

The teaching process is long. We are constantly spending time explaining things to our children, and if you want to raise culturally sensitive children in this angry world, you must also spend time explaining to them how and why. As foreigners living in a place that is not our own culture, we are constantly having conversations about how and why we do things. My younger kids don’t ask questions about these kinds of cultural differences where we live now, but when we are back in the US, they ask questions constantly. My oldest remembers what it is like to live in the US and sometimes she has questions about why we do certain things certain ways in Greece. These conversations are worth having because they not only inform your children, but they shape the kind of adults they will become. If you teach your children to be curious instead of condemning, their whole outlook on life will change. Maybe you don’t like deep fried spider on a stick, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to eat. Maybe you don’t agree that your child will catch a serious cold if they don’t wear industrial boots on the first day of winter, that doesn’t mean that the other person is wrong in their opinions. This whole idea of right and wrong when it comes to culture creates unnecessary division.

A New Normal

Next time you are tempted to turn away in disgust when someone offers you a plate of food that appears strange to you, or they give you advice you have never heard before, stay polite. Don’t roll your eyes or look away in disgust. You wouldn’t want someone responding to you that way, would you? It’s common courtesy that isn’t all common any more.

What do you think? What are some cultural differences that have been difficult for you to address with your children? Is it your goal to raise culturally sensitive children? Why or why not?

Happy travels,


Public Forum- Raising Culturally Sensitive Children

culturally sensitive children

I have been thinking about the subject of raising culturally sensitive children a lot! It has been a long tunnel of thought, and I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do in this situation is to branch out and get other parents’ opinions as well. As an American living in Europe, I have had to teach my kids about behaviors and language in a way I never expected. You see, we refuse to be categorized as the obnoxious foreign family in our neighborhood (wherever we live). This causes arguments and discussions in our house on a constant basis. Let’s rewind a few days to a conversation I had with K,

K: “Mom, I don’t want to wear a jacket. It isn’t even that cold.”

Me: “Honey, I know you are not that cold, but it is jacket time, and if people see you without a jacket on, they will get upset.”

K: “Why will they get upset because I don’t want to wear a jacket?”

Me: “Well, because even though they are strangers, they care about you. And isn’t it worth it to do something just so other people won’t be upset?”

K: “Yes, it is. Even though I’m not cold at all, I will wear a jacket, Mommy.”

Let me show you another way this conversation could have gone (and yes I have heard conversations like this, too often I’m afraid).

K: “Mom, I don’t want to wear a jacket. It isn’t even that cold.”

Me: “I know it isn’t that cold, but if you don’t wear a jacket I’m going to get yelled at by at least five Yia Yias on the way to school.”

K: “Well why are they going to yell at you about my jacket?”

Me: “Because they think you will get sick if don’t wear one anytime after October.”

K: “Well is that true?”

Me: “No, but they are crazy, so let’s just do what they want so we can be on our way without having any arguments.”

This isn’t an example so that everyone can argue about the merits of a coat in cold weather in relation to illness. I know both sides feel very strongly about it. I was raised American, so I personally do not believe that you will become ill if you do not wear a coat in 30 degree (86 F) weather just because it happens to be November. However, I am not saying that anyone who believes you can get ill from not wearing a coat is wrong. This is definitely a culturally linked way of thinking in my experience. The bottom line is, I care about people more than I care about my own opinion, and that is what I am trying to convey to my children.

Now I want to ask you, my friends and readers, what do you do and say to encourage your children to be culturally sensitive? Even in America there are stark cultural differences right next to each other (Travis grew up in Westminster, CA which has the third largest Vietnamese population in the U.S.). I feel like growing up in Los Angeles gave me a huge advantage to living abroad, because I was exposed to so many different cultures throughout my entire life. My goal is to compile all the information and comments and write an article, including your input, on how to raise a culturally sensitive children.

Also, if you haven’t read this book,

Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – And Cold – Climate Cultures

you should!! It has been a lifesaver for Travis and I as far as understanding motives of people from other cultures.

And please, remember to be kind to each other. The point of this is definitely not to start arguments with each other.

Happy Travels!

Kristin Spencer