Teaching Kids to Embrace Their Heritage

You can boost a child’s sense of identity by keeping cultural traditions alive.

By Marye Audet

Teaching kids to embrace their heritage, who they are and their unique place in the community is increasingly difficult as society becomes more and more a muddled melting pot. While it’s important to understand and explore others’ traditions, doing so can dilute your own family’s culture if you don’t keep it as part of the cultural concoction.

The perfect mix is a society where each culture adds its own unique flavor without becoming completely assimilated. Perhaps, rather than a melting pot, America should be described as a stew, with each culture’s adding flavor while retaining the culture’s unique identity. The best way to do this is to continue celebrating the traditions and customs of your culture—passing them on to your children.

Here are some ways to encourage your kids to be proud of who they are and where they came from, so that they will be more likely to pass these traditions on to future generations.

Family Biography and Oral History

While it may seem like your family has been the same and will be the same forever, the truth is life is unpredictable. Getting the older generation’s memories down on paper is something that shouldn’t be put off. With technology being so readily available it doesn’t take much to create a YouTube channel and a video interview with grandparents and even great-grandparents. Learning history in school is much different than hearing about Pearl Harbor or Vietnam from someone who was there. Learning about the Day of the Dead from a book is much less interesting than hiding a tiny skeleton in the pan de muerto (bread of the dead–a traditional food) that your grandmother is making or listening to her talk about how her family celebrated when she was a child. You can also use the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/index.html) to find information about your family history.

Take a Field Trip

Whether your known family history begins in the next town over or in an Irish castle, visiting the area can give your child a link to his past. The Internet allows anyone with a connection to visit almost any area in the world, view the terrain, and understand the climate. Use a large wall map of the world to mark your family’s journey from where it began to where you live now. You may not be able to fill in all of the details, but fill in as much as you can. Sometimes it’s easier to start from where you are and work backwards. As you fill in details, use Google earth and other Internet resources to virtually visit the area and make it real to your child.

Learn about Your Heritage

Do what you can to learn more about the holidays, ceremonies, and traditions of your culture, even if your family did not practice them. Choose one or two of them and integrate them into your life, creating your own versions and sharing them with family and friends. Houston-area cultural events include the Japan festival in April, Caribbean Heritage Month Festival in June, and the Greek Festival in October. Attending events like these introduce your kids to a larger community of people with a history that they share. Food, festivities, and music are usually part of these celebrations.

Use Food as a Teaching Tool

Every culture has traditional foods and ingredients. Nearly every family has favorite family recipes like Nana’s Chocolate Cake or Uncle Charlie’s brisket rub. These should be made often, talked about, and shared around the family table. Talk about where the recipes came from, how they might have gotten started, and any special memories that you have about these dishes. Cook family recipes together, making it a celebration of who you are and where you came from. If you don’t have family recipes, then find dishes that are representative of the culture and make them your own family recipes.

Including Adopted Children and Bicultural Children

If your children’s heritage includes more than one culture, or your child is adopted, be sure to include the traditions and celebrations of these cultures, even if you are not familiar with them. Usually, if your child has a parent from another culture or race, he or she can fill in the gaps that you can’t. An adopted child may be a bit more challenging. Adopted children often have a sense of not belonging anywhere, especially if little is known about their birth parents. Doing what you can to fill in the gaps for them will help them develop a sense of who they are and where they come from. If you are not adopted you can’t understand the feeling of isolation that sometimes comes, the feeling of not knowing who you are, or the way that having no roots can attack your identity. Giving your adopted child a sense of where they came from increases their confidence, and allows them to feel equal to their peers.

Heritage Bestows a Sense of Pride

Knowing your family history and celebrating its traditions gives your children a strong sense of identity. Embracing your adopted child’s heritage gives him the validation that he craves. Identity, validation, great food, and celebrations…What’s not to like?


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