Help your kids create new connections

When your kids get into the career world, they’ll likely work with people from an array of races, beliefs and backgrounds. Feeling comfortable and talking about your differences is critical in life, according to Janet Penn, executive director of Youth LEAD, a non-profit organization that brings together high school students from different religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds to learn from each other. Read how to help your kids embrace diversity and foster new bonds.

Why is it important for kids to engage with people from different cultural backgrounds?

Janet Penn: Between globalization and minority babies now being the majority born in the U.S., our kids will be working with people from different cultural backgrounds. If they’re going to succeed, they need to be comfortable communicating and collaborating with people from many different backgrounds.

Listen deeply

Why do you say the ability to connect with people from different cultures is a "must-have" for kids?

Penn: You can’t collaborate and innovate if you don’t trust people or can’t get beyond surface relationships. And sometimes that means agreeing to disagree while still respecting the other person. These are tough skills that are typically not taught in schools but can make all the difference in the workplace. If your kids know how to respectfully share their own perspective when they disagree by using “I” statements, they can turn angry rhetoric into understanding. If your kids know how to listen deeply to someone with a very different point of view, they may just find a new way to solve a thorny design problem at work.

Step outside your comfort zone

If the sentiment that "diversity is desirable" isn't enough, what do kids need to do to create change in behavior?

Tips to foster cross-cultural understanding in kids

  • Strive to get out of your comfort zone
  • Don’t avoid controversial topics
  • Discuss cultural news stories with your kids
  • Take a stand if you witness an episode of cultural or racial insensitivity
  • Take some faith field trips and learn about how others worship
  • Visit another country or visit an ethnic section of a nearby city
  • Encourage kids to join organizations that bring different cultures together

Penn: Interact! If your kids have never had a meaningful conversation with someone from a different culture, all they know are stereotypes they may have seen on TV or the internet. When they’re young, it’s as simple as encouraging them to ask about the food in their classmates’ lunchbox. When they’re older, kids can ask questions to seek a different perspective, not merely to prove that their way of seeing the world is better.

If parents socialize in an insulated bubble, how can kids gain a broader worldview?

Penn: It’s up to us to model behavior for our kids. For example, invite neighbors and parents of classmates over for a potluck. Sharing food is always a great way to break the ice and can easily lead to an interesting and meaningful connection.

Hey, Moms!

How do teach your kids about how to connect with people from different cultural backgrounds? Share your thoughts and stories in Comments below.

Read more on kids and diversity

Teaching kids about racial and cultural diversity
How to expose your kids to different cultures

Teaching kids to embrace diversity and be inclusive


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Comments on "Parenting Guru: Can your kids relate cross-culturally?"

Kelley July 11, 2012 | 11:03 AM

I love the idea of sharing a potluck meal as an icebreaker! Talking about the food that we have prepared - where we got the recipe or who taught us to make it, what ingredients we used, etc. are easy things that anyone can talk about! And some dishes may have particular significance and story attached, which can also create great conversation. Great tips - thanks!

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