I’m a firm believer that travel can heal the world and create compassion, understanding, and great harmony between people. And for kids, travel is the ultimate teacher. Travel helps kids see beyond their very limited environment and experience a world of different people, cultural traditions, and ways of life. But for kids to really understand and appreciate what they’re seeings and experiencing, conversations with parents is key. So, here are 10 parenting travel tips to help kids appreciate different cultures.
10 Parenting Travel Tips To Help Kids Appreciate Different Cultures
1. Know your bias.
As parents, we all have biases. Whenever I travel, I’m super careful about what and where we eat because I’m afraid of getting sick. Being sick when you travel (and with kids) is the worst! So, I avoid it like the plague. Sometimes though, that means I’m not as adventurous with food selection as I could be. Luckily, my husband, on the other hand, makes up for us both with his “eat anything” mentality.
Whereas I’m not a super adventurous travel eater, the hubs is not an explorer. I love driving and getting lost and using my phone or asking for directions to find my way back to where we started. Granted, with kids, I’m a bit more cautious, but still. I love to wander around a place, get lost, and find my way back. Along the way, we see so many cool things, places we’d have no clue how to find again, but they had the best…. [fill in the blank].
We’re also both (the hubs and I) really protective of our kids but in different cultures, people can be much more handsy, and we’re (I’m) not always comfortable. So, learning to say things like, “they don’t like to be touched” in the local language is helpful.
Above all, as parents, we try not to freak out when we see unusual things. We want to help our kids appreciate different cultures and not be afraid of the differences. So, we have to watch our reactions.
2. Use kind words.
When we do see unusual things, we practice using kind words. In our family, kind words are positive, and we describe exactly what we see (in as kid-friendly a description as possible).
During our travels, as a black family traveling around Asia, we get a lot of funny looks. There aren’t a lot of black people. So, our family is a novelty and random people want to touch our kids and take their picture. Try explaining that to your kids.
So, we used kind words and told them exactly what was happening. “Some people thought they [the kids] looked really cool and they wanted to remember them. So they took their pictures and touched their faces.”
But if anyone ever touched them and they didn’t want to be touched, we’ve always taught them how to say “please don’t touch” in whatever country we’re in. One of our kids hates attention but the other one kinda loves it. It’s an interesting problem to have.
Even though my husband and I have been seriously freaked out (me more than him), we’ve tried to remain calm and level-headed for our kids to help them appreciate different cultures and process what they’ve experienced without our reactions wrapped in it.
3. Normalize the difference.
Kids see differences all the time, but they only give the different things significance when we—their parents—make it mean something.
So, we try to be pretty “flat” about all of the differences we experience and we find ourselves often saying things like, “Different mommies and daddies teach things their own way. Some people do things like [this or that] because that’s how they were taught. Just like you do [this or that] this way because that’s how we taught you. It’s not wrong. It’s just different.”
4. Remember, it’s not good or bad.
We also try not to judge the differences. We do things “our” way in “our home” and we tell our kids that in some people’s homes things may be done differently. Their own way. We do things our way and some people do things their way. As long as no one is hurt or forced to do anything against their will, it’s not good or bad. It’s just different.
5. Say “some” people not “those” people.
Many may think this is nitpicky, but we really try not to stereotype any group of people by lumping them into a group of others. We practice saying, “some people” do XYZ instead of “those people” do XYZ. Because honestly, everyone does things differently and not all people from the same group do things the same way. It’s a small thing, but it’s an important distinction we’d like our kids to make early.
Some people do things differently. It’s a big step to help our kids appreciate different cultures because what they’re learning is to appreciate one person’s right to choose to be different.
6. Compare situations to how we do things in “our” house.
Since some people do things differently, the way we ground our kids is to compare all of the differences they see to how we do things in “our” home.
For our kids, everything is grounded in our home and the differences we see during our travels are compared to how our family does things. Our kids just understand that everyone has different “rules” in their home.
7. Try different foods.
This is a no-brainer. One of the best ways to get a “taste” of a culture is through the food. Invite your kids to try new local foods. It’s ok if they don’t like it. The point is to step outside of their comfort zones to try something new. Somehow I like to think that the very act of symbolically stepping into someone else’s culture (by just eating a new food) is a big step for a kid to start building an empathy muscle for other people. Everyone’s life is a bit different. It’s important to understand the differences so that kids can (later in life) build bridges of similarity.
8. Check out local markets instead of “touristy” markets
Ok, so my husband is ALL. ABOUT. FINDING. LOCAL. MARKETS. It’s his favorite part of traveling. He loves street food, and he loves to find cool unique stuff. Local markets are his jam. Me, I like malls and air conditioning. But I suppress my tendency toward my known comforts to keep my husband from trying too many new foods and experience a new place with my family. It’s great for our kids to see, talk to, and just be with people who live life differently than we do. It’s fun because at our core, we’re all pretty much the same and that’s what we’re trying to show our kids.
9. Try to speak the local language.
Again, I’ve got to give kudos to my husband. He seems to be a language sponge, and our kids have taken after their dad. I struggle to learn language basics but once I get them, I confidently speak like a first grader in my new language and try to engage people with questions. It’s SO hard to live life in a language that’s not your own, but the very act of trying to communicate with people is rewarding. Even though we’re always outsiders in our travels, the fact that we try to speak the local language and engage with strangers—at markets and places we often frequent—is an amazing feeling. You never know how much you miss human connection until you don’t speak the local language.
10. Make local friends.
Finally, try to make friends (and if not friends at least acquaintances) with local folks. If you’re a religious person, find a church or a religious community whenever you travel. I know a woman who’s a bell ringer and whenever she travels, she seeks out fellow bell ringers. Whatever your personal quirks happen to be, embrace them when you travel. They’ll lead you to meet people who like the same quirky things you do and they’ll allow you and your kids to experience your travels in a new more local way.
Here at Nomad Mom Life, we think that kids and family travel are a great combination and we’ve started early to try and help our kids appreciate different cultures. Teaching kids to recognize differences and find similarities is such a beautifully simple but an amazingly complex skill for them to develop. It takes time but if that conversation starts early, even if you’re only traveling a few miles from home, it makes a big difference.
How do you help your kids appreciate cultural differences?