Talking to your child about culture

Living between two cultures – a ‘British’ way of life and the culture your parents or grandparents grew up with, can be a rich and fulfilling experience – but there can also be conflicts and challenges. When teaching our children about their heritage and the traditions we would like to see them continue, it can be difficult to balance these with the traditions and ways of life that they are growing up with and embracing. Simple things like food through to language show just how complex this can be.

Living, studying and working in Britain, obviously shapes some of our values, lifestyle choices and even beliefs. However for second and third generation (whose parents or grandparents respectively, were immigrants) Black and minority ethnic (BME) people, there are countless other factors contributing to our belief systems and everyday way of life.

Religion, race, traditions, clothes, language, food, film and music can hold great significance in a large majority of people’s lives, but for some cultural identity can be made up of influences which are not part of the mainstream society they are living in and can often be misunderstood and misinterpreted.

By continuing the practices and culture you enjoy and view as important, in your home, in the way you dress, the language you speak or the food you cook, you are giving your children the opportunity to share, participate in, and value different cultures and by doing so experience a broad, varied and enriched life.

Staying culturally connected

Accept that your children have interests and hobbies that may be different to the ones you are accustomed to. It helps to show you are interested in what they are doing and to find ways of including these in the family-based ones that you’d like them to embrace. Celebrate your child's cultural identity and encourage them to get involved in activities that bring them into direct contact with their culture.

Recognise that if your child is from a different cultural or racial background these may become important as they become older.  Be prepared for your child to ask you questions about their culture, their colour and people that you know.

Make contact with groups, organisations or people from your child's background and find out some of the simple steps you can take to help your child develop a positive view of their identity. For example, skin and hair care, knowledge of food and important customs, important annual, religious or social events. Think of ways that you can help your child be part of their culture without making it a big deal.

Fun being bilingual

Children will usually adopt the language around them at nursery and school – but this can be difficult for parents who have struggled with learning a new language and prefer communicating in their mother tongue. Treat this as an opportunity for your children to learn your language - being bi-lingual is an excellent skill to possess.

Sharing experiences

Talk about your own upbringing or stories your parents have told you about their childhoods. If possible, encourage them to spend time with relatives such as grandparents – or even family friends - who can give them first-hand accounts of life in another country and living within a completely different culture to the one they know. This is a good way to help them to understand more about their cultural and racial background.

Encourage your children to talk about their traditions and your family’s way of life to their friends and peers (such as classmates) so that they grow up proud and aware of their cultural differences and are confident when informing others about them.

Try and understand if your child has times when they are confused about who they are and listen to them if they need to talk.  Try not to become defensive or feel threatened if your child becomes very attached to people from the same cultural or racial group as themselves as this is a natural step for them.

If your child has been adopted, recognise that your child has more than one identity and as an adopted child and both of these should be valued and celebrated.  Develop a general awareness or racial and cultural diversity and how your child fits into this, some of the experiences they may have when they are older and what your response and support should be. For example, a black child in a white adoptive family will become very isolated if he or she experiences racial abuse, or is treated differently by other black people, and this is not acknowledged by white parents or non-black brothers and sisters.

Useful contacts:

  • BHM (Black History Month website) An online guide which holds information on all the activities and events taking place, which celebrate black history, arts and culture during Black History Month and also for the rest of the
  • People in Harmony An organisation which promotes the positive experience of interracial life in Britain today and challenges the racism, prejudice and ignorance in society.
  • Runnymede Trust Runnymede is an independent, voluntary organisation, which focuses on the social and interpersonal benefits of living positively within a society that is both multi-ethnic and culturally diverse.


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