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.)