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Monday, November 12th, 2012

Raising Globally-Minded Children—What? How? And Why?


One day, while driving around in our car, my four-year-old son complained from behind, “Ma, I wish all of us were not Indians. It is boring. You or Appa could have been Mexican or Italian.” I smiled at his wish for our family to be biracial. I was also proud because the global mindset that we have tried to infuse in our children early on, was presenting itself in little ways—like how he thought a third language or a piñata could spice up our lives.


Global-mindedness is a temperament that stems from an interest, awareness and respect towards other people, cultures and countries. It could manifest as a simple neighborhood act or in a bigger way when we step outside our mental and physical locus to influence something. Addressing our own cultural background and heritage is a start. Most times, this comes naturally to us. In a bicultural family or while raising a third culture kid, the stage is already set.  However, these are still bounded in some way. A truer broad-mindedness embraces and integrates several other cultures, far beyond our own ethnic context.


Best Approaches to Raising a Global Kid


The simplest and best approach in raising children to be globally-minded, in my experience, begins by treating it as a virtue.  To be informed and open-minded to the many cultural ways of our world is a virtue in every sense, just like honesty or politeness. In our family, we start by acknowledging the diversity in everything we do and see. Even as we play out the differences, we make it a point to emphasize that there is always a rationale associated with every unique way and that one is not superior to another.


Besides this, there are other practical and more quantifiable approaches we can adopt, like traveling, for example. Although it takes time, money and effort, the benefits are incomparable. There’s nothing quite like discovering the nuances of a different culture in a new place.


Books are probably the easiest way to experience cultures. They are more accessible and affordable. Getting children into the habit of reading stories from around the world or set in diverse cultural backdrops, is a wonderful thing.


When it comes to food, showing a readiness to eat or cook different foods ourselves can encourage children. Dinner-time chats can easily evolve into a meaty discussion on geography!


Fostering friendships with people from different cultures and showing an eagerness to exchange practices and customs is another simple approach.


Holidays and cultural events are fun and enriching! In our home, we put up our eclectically decorated “world tree” for Christmas every year, even though we are not Christian. While we have a list of holidays we tangibly celebrate, we do a craft or read a relevant book to observe the rest.


Learning a language different from our native tongue is a wonderful gateway into another culture. And being able to live in a different country, even for a brief period (for work or familial reasons), is like winning a lottery! This experience can be a great value addition to a child’s personal growth and outlook.


From globe-trotting to putting up a map on the wall, there are plenty of ways to raise a globally minded child. In essence, we need to create the climate and the opportunities for our children to sample and share cultures, so the world opens up and they become aware of their place in it.


Challenges in Global Mindedness


However, there are also roadblocks to meander sometimes. For us, the most challenging situation is when our child is finding it difficult to fit in, because we are not always surrounded my like-minded people. For instance, we try to be “global” in the kind of music or movies or books that our children enjoy.  At a recent birthday party, I noticed that my daughter’s choices weren’t “pop” enough for her friends to know or appreciate (my daughter’s favorite song at the moment is a Native American chant). We have even noticed that reactions to our parenting preferences are varied and somewhat discomforting.  Hopefully, some day this will no longer be an issue.


Now, Why Is All of This Even Important?


To me, the drive for raising kids to be globally-minded comes from both a short-term and a long-term need. For one, we are not natives of the country where we live. We are also in a very diverse community, where our children interact with others who are very unlike them in several ways. To be at home, and to make others feel at home becomes essential for the local community to flourish. Healthier rapports among school-goers can translate to lesser bullying and teen-gangs. The cultural literacy that we inseminate in our kids today can help them make decisions with an international perspective later on, something fundamental to world peace and our humanity. So, yes, raising globally-minded children is a long-term investment in some sense. But an indispensable one at that.


(Thanks to Stephanie Meade for seeing this in me and giving me the confidence to write this piece.)

© 2012 – 2013, Meera Sriram. All rights reserved.

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Meera Sriram has been reviewing and recommending diverse children’s literature for over five years now. She loves to pass on a title or an author to a friend (or a stranger, for that matter). Picture books particularly appeal to the inner child in her. She moved to the U.S at the turn of the millennium from India. After graduate studies and a brief stint as an electrical engineer, she decided to express herself in other creative ways, primarily through writing. She has co-authored two books for children, both published in India. Her writing interests include people and cultures, nature and life’s everyday moments. She also does story time for toddlers in her community. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two kids. Curling up to read a good book with her little boy and girl is something she looks forward to everyday. She constantly fantasizes about a world with no boundaries over hot chai to help stay warm in foggy Northern California.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsClara   |  Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 6:26 am

    Hi – really interesting piece. I totally agree it’s a great thing to bring your child up as “globally minded” and we try and do that through travel, books, maps, awareness of other cultures etc. However, a small warning. As a child I was definitely a global citizen, having been born in one country, moved to another and then to a third all on different continents and all before I was four. However, what did I really want? To fit in. I found it really hard being “different” to my friends, and not listening to the same pop music, watching the same films or just having the same cultural touchstones. I am still aware of this and therefore make sure that while educating my own children about the world, I am also allowing them to be the “same” as their friends. I have no problem if they love One Direction or the X Factor and we all enjoy things like visiting theme parks or other very “normal” family places . I suppose I am trying to create a sense of belonging that perhaps I felt I missed out on as a child.

  2. CommentsMeera Sriram   |  Thursday, 15 November 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks for a great comment, Clara! Yes, that’s the challenging part. I try to bring in a balance because happiness also comes from blending in. However, I think this can happen with little effort, since we (they) are always bombarded by the pop stuff everywhere. I also wonder if we should even do the same things just so it might help fit in, unless it happens naturally. Couple of things I think can help the case –
    1) when kids are raised to be open, respectful and appreciative of “different’ choices that their friends might bring in, then the herd mentality ceases to be the expected norm
    2) kids raised ‘alternately’ should also be raised to feel good and proud about being ‘different’, and not feel substandard about their choices, that’s part of the challenge too.
    Again, great to hear from someone who has lived the experience! Thanks!

  3. CommentsAndrea   |  Friday, 16 November 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Clara’s experience really struck a chord with me, having also been raised in a culture other than my home one. As a child, I recognised I was different but it was not valued by those around me and once the peer influence became more powerful than the home one, I struggled to see my difference as a virtue. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the valuable conversations needed to support my understanding of my situation and it affected my sense of identity. Interestingly, when I look back, I found that my friendships naturally gravitated towards others who came from multicultural homes.

    Now, as an international school educator, I am thrilled to work in an environment where to be different is the norm. In these circumstances, the children and their global mindfulness flourish, especially as more is known about the TCK experience and how to support it. I see children struggle with transitions and questions of national identity, however, I also see them proud of their experiences and supported by their social and educational communities. It makes all the difference.

    As a new parent, I am now faced with the decision of where to raise my child: global versus country citizenship. I hope to somehow strike a balance between the two. Excellent articles like these give me much food for thought – thank you!

  4. CommentsMeera Sriram   |  Tuesday, 27 November 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thanks, Clara! It was wonderful to read your experience! I think you’ve found the perfect job and work environment (for you)! Yes, I too think parental involvement and support is key, as it can help kids feel secure and confident about making alternate choices. That’s the idea for now, so “different” is also normally accepted , and eventually (and idealistically!) there is a seamless exchange.

  5. CommentsThe ABCs of Raising a World Citizen: A - E | All Done Monkey   |  Monday, 07 January 2013 at 6:02 am

    […] it comes to raising a world citizen, a key ingredient is your own attitude.  As discussed in this thoughtful essay by Meera Sriram on InCulture Parent, the first step towards teaching our kids to be globally minded is “treating it as a […]

  6. CommentsCULTURAL LITERACY: Why Your Kids NEED To Travel   |  Tuesday, 21 January 2014 at 9:13 pm

    […] “So, yes, raising globally-minded children is a long-term investment in some sense. But an indispensable one at that,” says author Meera Sriram. […]

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