Thoughtful Parenting: Encouraging cultural competence in your children
Steamboat Springs — Integrated Community’s mission is to promote and support the successful integration of immigrant community members through intercultural exchange, education and collaboration.
As more immigrants move to Routt County, the culture of our community is shifting. It is important that we maintain an open conversation around the changing demographics in our region, especially with our children.
Every day at Integrated Community, we meet kids born in various Latin American countries who are living and growing up in Routt County. Once these children become adults, they are bilingual and bicultural. They achieve a high level of cultural competence through exposure — exposure to their birth country’s culture in their homes and exposure to American culture everywhere else.
Similarly, many of the community members who are interested in Integrated Community — our volunteers, for example — have had experiences living or working in a different culture. That might mean spending a college semester abroad, working a first job in the Latino neighborhoods of Denver, having been raised by an immigrant parent or growing up in another country.
When a person is exposed to other cultures in this way, he or she begins to appreciate learning how other people live, and tolerance of diversity becomes a personal value. This form of growth results in cultural competence.
Cultural competence usually is defined as the ability to honor, respect and work alongside those of differing languages, behaviors and beliefs. Not only is cultural competence important to help our kids lead rich lives, but also to ensure that they become successful adults working effectively as part of an increasingly diverse labor force.
Most of us can’t feasibly move our families to a foreign country to expose our kids to another culture. So how can we raise children to be sensitive and tolerant to all people here at home?
• Begin by helping your child become aware of her own culture. Have a discussion about your family’s race, traditions, worldview, values, history and heritage. Talk about how your culture fits into the greater fabric of our country and community.
• Discuss with your child the importance of being open to kids of differing nationality, skin color, language and culture, especially at school.
• When you are running errands with your child, greet Latino or West African community members. Strike up a conversation, and let your child participate. Simple interactions can be surprisingly enriching.
• From these small interactions, begin to build relationships with immigrant neighbors, coworkers or other parents you meet at your child’s school. Your child will learn from your example.
• If it is possible for your family, choose vacations to other countries that are meaningful and educational. Engage the people who live there, and appreciate the food, language and traditions you encounter. Experiences abroad will show your kids the value of learning about other cultures.
The most important thing is to teach your child compassion toward others regardless of culture. After all, connecting to people different from ourselves can make a huge world seem small.
Laura Riley is the education coordinator at Integrated Community, a member of the Routt County Youth Services Coalition, whose website can be found at http://www.youthinroutt.org. Learn more about Integrated Community and its programs at http://www.ciiccolorado.org.
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