Raising bicultural children

If you are raising a child in two different cultures, you may feel pressure to ensure your child understands, embraces, and respects your cultural heritage. At the same time, you want them to be well adjusted to their life in the United States, which you have worked so hard to give them.

You want the best for your family, which may be one of the reasons you are in the United States. Your child will be exposed to American culture on a daily basis, and they will have a different upbringing from your own. They will be surrounded by people and experiences that may be vastly different from your own while you were growing up. And that’s ok. In fact, your child’s new experiences and their blended cultures will contribute to them being confident, creative, kind, and open-minded.

The benefits of being raised in a bicultural environment

Studies show that bicultural children who take part in both of their cultures are more self-assured and more successful in school than children who have rejected one of their cultures.

Experiencing and understanding different kinds of traditions, religions, languages, and practices broadens children’s minds. They get to see first-hand that there are different ways to live, celebrate, and express themselves. These differences provide advantages that help them excel in life.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study in 2012 on the effects of biculturalism on creative and professional success. In this study, subjects were asked to come up with creative uses for a brick. The bicultural subjects generated more ideas and more creativity. The study concluded that bicultural people could see things from multiple perspectives, allowing them to innovate and be creative with relative ease.

Homes immersed in more than one culture are filled with multiple languages, interesting food, and many ways to celebrate life. You can create new traditions in your home that embrace both the new and the familiar. Here are a few tips on how to share your culture with your children and help them navigate American culture as well.

Sharing your culture through food

Cooking is more than sharing a meal—it’s also sharing memories, culture, and family traditions. There may be times when your child scoffs at the ethnic foods you prepare while their friends have mac ‘n’ cheese and meatloaf at home. But what they will eventually understand is that you are sharing with them a small but essential piece of who they are.

Encourage your children to invite their friends over for a traditional meal from your home country. Share with their friends the stories that the meal reminds you of and ask if they have similar stories. Your child and their friends will take away from the meal how traditions can cross cultural barriers. Take it a step further and welcome other families to share in a potluck meal, where everyone brings a different dish.

Introduce your family to other cultures by enjoying a meal at a local ethnic restaurant outside your own culture. You could have Mexican one week, Chinese the next week, and Indian the week after that. See if your children can pick out similar foods at each restaurant to show that every culture has unique spins on a common type of food. Providing your child with real-life examples of how similarities can cross cultural boundaries will help them realize that being different is a positive thing.

Sharing your culture through language

One common misconception about raising bicultural children is that trying to teach a young child more than one language will confuse them and cause them to fall behind in school. However, there is no evidence to support this claim. Children who grow up speaking more than one language tend to be more creative thinkers, adapt quickly to different environments, and process information more efficiently. In fact, elementary schools have started teaching more than one language to their young students.

When teaching your children your native language, it’s helpful to do so consistently, instead of switching back and forth from English. Children can pick up sounds, words, and meaning through immersion and listening. It’s perfectly reasonable for young children sometimes to confuse English words with your native language, but eventually, they will learn to differentiate and speak both languages proficiently.

Here are a few tips for teaching your child a new language:

  • If you are uncomfortable speaking your native language primarily at home, consider designating one or two rooms where only English can be spoken, such as the kitchen and bedroom.
  • Encourage reading books and watching TV in your native language while at home.
  • If you have young children, consider organizing a playgroup with other young children from your native country.
  • Designate one parent to speak the native language at all times while the other parent always speaks English around the child. Consistency is critical in the child picking up the language.

You share your cultural pride by example. If you move to the United States with your children and the whole family is trying to learn English, you don’t have to stop speaking your language. If you avoid talking in your native language entirely, you could be setting an example for your children that you are giving up your heritage. Show your children by your actions that diversity should be embraced, not be embarrassed about. Speak your native language with pride when you are out in public. Your children will learn from your actions that they should be proud of where they come from. Your efforts will teach your children to be accepting of all people, and that differences should be respected and appreciated.

Creating new family traditions

You and your family have a unique opportunity to create a multicultural household. As a family, you can decide how you will incorporate parts of your new country with elements from your home country. By having the best of both worlds, you and your family can participate in local cultural events, and celebrate your native cultural holidays while also enjoying American activities.

You can teach your children how holidays are observed, social customs, and traditional dress from your country while also welcoming new American practices into your home. By doing so, you are teaching your children to be open-minded and recognize that there is more than one way to approach every situation.

One of the most entertaining ways to incorporate a mix of cultures is through music. Listen to music from your home country as a family. Show your children a traditional dance. Kids love a dance party!

Navigating cultural differences

Preparing your children for a life outside your home is a big task as a parent. However, your children have many advantages, including being more aware and accepting of the diversity of the United States. On the other hand, there may be times when you and your child feel disadvantaged because you are balancing between two worlds.

A disconnect may form between family members because of language barriers or cultural differences—you may interpret how your child acts in certain situations as rude, even though their behavior is considered normal in the US. It’s important to understand that your child is usually immersed in American culture when they’re not at home—and if you struggle to embrace American culture in your interactions with your child, a barrier may develop that prevents your family from making new traditions that better suit your family’s unique experiences in the United States.

As a bicultural child, your child gets to define for themselves what being an American is by molding together their different cultures into a new worldview. At times, this may be confusing and challenging, and you may run into generational, cultural, and language-related challenges that are overwhelming and frustrating. But you are laying the groundwork for your child’s successful future that they will appreciate and understand as they grow.

Be open to your child’s questions. Talk about what it means to be American and what it means to be a part of your native culture. The more you can teach your child about your world and your traditions, the more you can bridge the gap between the two cultures. When they know more about their cultural heritage, the more self-aware they will become.

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