At a time when differences in religion and culture seem to divide communities, it’s more important than ever for parents and caregivers to instill the values of respect and tolerance in their children. Whether your family is staunchly secular or practicing a faith, your kids are growing up in a diverse world with people who have a variety of beliefs and backgrounds. With the winter holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa fast approaching and World Religion Day on January 21, 2018, take time to talk to your kids about the myriad religious and cultural traditions that surround us. Here’s how.
Lead by example.
Before you can expect your kids to be kind, tolerant and open-minded about different cultures and religions, you must practice what you preach. As parents, we show our children how to embrace diversity through our actions and our language, which means avoiding stereotypes, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and approaching new experiences with an open mind. Our kids are watching, and they will model the behaviors they see.
Expose your kids to different cultures and religions.
People often live in communities where their neighbors look like them, practice a familiar faith and have similar cultural roots. Introducing your kids to new people, traditions and religions means actively seeking out information and learning opportunities, as well as pushing beyond your comfort zone to broaden your family’s understanding of the world. Not sure where to begin? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Read about different religions and cultures. What Do You Believe? is a comprehensive children’s book covering major global religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, as well as lesser-known faiths. If you are interested in the broader topic of diversity, check out People or Food Like Mine, which includes recipes from around the world. As kids get older, encourage them to independently research religions and cultures and report their findings to you.
- Participate in other religious holidays and cultural traditions. If you and your children have the opportunity to celebrate a holiday with a family who practices a different faith, accept the invitation. Kids love being part of any kind of celebration, and it’s an easy and fun way to gain a better understanding of other cultures.
- Create a calendar of major religious and cultural holidays around the world. On each holiday, talk about the meaning of the day and how it is observed. Search for photos of people celebrating and discuss the differences and similarities to holidays your children are familiar with.
- Investigate how other cultures celebrate the same holidays. For example, the Filipino Christmas tradition Simbang Gabiis a series of nine masses, beginning on December 16 and ending on Christmas Eve. In North African countries, the seventh night of Hanukkah is known as Chag haBanot, or the Festival of Daughters, which celebrates heroic women.
Be aware of the media your child is consuming.
Avoid media that reinforces negative stereotypes about certain religions or cultures. Make sure your children are watching age-appropriate television shows and movies that accurately reflect the diverse world we live in. For young children, choose shows like Sesame Street and other PBS programming, which positively portray people of different cultural backgrounds, races, faiths and abilities.
Celebrate differences and find common ground.
Appreciating that the world is a diverse place is critical, but so is acknowledging that in many ways, we’re all the same. While people with different cultural and religious backgrounds may worship a different deity or eat unfamiliar foods, many faith traditions believe in familiar principles, such as kindness, gratitude and service. Cultural and religious holidays often focus on similar activities—celebratory feasts, singing and dancing, times of reflection and prayer. As you begin to teach your child about different cultures, encourage empathy and understanding by celebrating what is unique while recognizing common ground.