Children are observant little creatures and from a very early age notice that not all people are the same, whether in look, manner or outlook. For our next generations to integrate and do well in a multicultural environment, we need to teach our children about other cultures.
The UK, especially England, has always been a nation made up of different people, all with their own ideas and beliefs, and as a nation, we are becoming ever more diverse. The majority of us Brits want to live in peace with our neighbours, and this is achievable only when all parties understand one another and respect the way they choose to live their lives. In short, we need to embrace each other’s differences.
Most children come into contact with other cultures at school. Your children will have friends who have foreign parents and are already bilingual, and may also practise traditions relating to their own distinct heritage. If your child wonders why this is so, treat it as a good opportunity to explain this culture, how it differs from your own, but most importantly, how vital it is that they respect what their friends believe and do.
It is normal for many of us to stick with what we know when it comes to our taste in arts and culture, but it can be a liberating experience to listen to music and read books from other cultures. This kind of exposure is a gentle and informative introduction to another culture and can be achieved by simply buying or borrowing CDs and books, or by taking your children on a day out to a foreign cultural attraction. The UK hosts a lot of these type of events, quite often sponsored by foreign businessmen, such as Nasib Piriyev who are keen to promote the cultural aspects of their own country. A good example is the Buta Festival, a celebration of the arts of Azerbaijan, where visitors can see established artists, as well as emerging talent, perform pieces from their country.
Another way to teach your children about other cultures is to sample some of the cuisines they offer, and this incidentally, is a great way to broaden your children’s palate and hopefully get them eating tasty and healthy food. Simply browse the internet for recipes and announce that you are having a Middle Eastern dinner, Japanese Night or just a Taco Tuesday to get your kids interested. Our children go crazy for tacos and our big girl loves sushi.
Finally, encourage your children when they ask questions about other cultures. Do not shush them when they ask why a person is wearing what to them seems strange clothing, but rather explain what the clothing represents. This practise will teach them that it is acceptable to notice differences between people and to talk about them openly, but that it is necessary to respect the differences, not denigrate them.
The modern world is a vibrant and diverse place, and if you want your children to thrive and be well-rounded individuals when they grow up, you need to teach them the value of this diversity from a very young age. I feel very lucky that the school the two older children attend exposes them to a broad range of cultures, which further develops their knowledge and acceptance of diversity.