Raising Culturally Competent Kids

Raising Culturally Competent Kids

A few weeks ago, my daughter’s third grade class visited the community center where VTC offices. They brought home goods for a service project and met the VTC Associates (Sidenote: Parents, teachers and Center staff all agreed – one of the best service projects ever). I let her introduce the ladies to her friends from school. She made one statement I will never forget. She simply said, “We’re so lucky to have them here.” Did you catch that? We’re so lucky to have them. She’s 8. After I held back the tears, I realized that my daughter sees the world through a completely different lens than most of us living in our current culture of fear. She’s not intimidated by skin color or clothing and she doesn’t assume that a person will act a certain way because of those two factors. Does she watch the news and see what’s going on in the world? No. But she’s done something far more important when forming an opinion of someone – she’s spent time with refugees face to face.

Many afternoons, I’ll pick my kids up from schools where they are very much in the majority and we’ll head back to my office to pick up an order for shipping. In Vickery, they’re not a small minority, they ARE the minority. My kids don’t let skin color stop them. They build Lego ships with Mariam’s son, play hopscotch with kids in the afterschool program and run up to hug my Associates. My kids don’t equate a hijab with terrorism. They embrace diversity as a natural and beneficial part of life. They don’t look the other way when they see dark skin. They smile, wave, ask them their name…and if it’s Campbell, she compliments their jewelry. Inferiority isn’t a concept for my kids because they love different as equal.

Sometimes, I’ll stop and think, “How did we do this?!” How do we train our kids to accept differences and to respect the beauty of diverse cultures? I assure you we don’t have some special Giddens family cultural training program – we just show up. We’re present in the midst of normal life and we get to know refugees just like we do any other friends. We get to know their families, pray for their sick babies and send them Christmas cards. One of my Associates’ daughters even babysits for us on a regular basis. It’s beautiful to watch the affect it has on my children.

I also act the way I want my kids to act. I can’t expect my kids to embrace diversity if I’m afraid of it. They can’t learn to respect other cultures if I run from them. Kids are really intuitive. They sense our fears. They perceive our inconsistencies. When my kids ask questions about the women I work with and their countries, I take the opportunity to do a heart check. Is my mouth giving them a noble answer while my heart feels superiority and discrimination? Do I tell my kids to serve others yet spend none of my own time serving others? When our kids look at us, do they see the people we want them to be one day?

What about you? What exposure do your children have to the diversity around us? What challenges make it difficult to raise culturally competent kids? Let’s do the hard and sometimes uncomfortable work of teaching our children the beauty of difference. The world could use a generation of kids like this.