It is difficult enough to teach children how to behave in our homes, but what if the world outside our door is a completely different culture?
Living in a culture different to our own can make the world a little more confusing for children growing up and learning how to behave appropriately. Our children must learn to switch between cultures and accepted norms of society every time they walk out the door. It can be difficult for our kids to know how to behave, and to trust their judgment. As expat parents we have the important task of empowering them with the skills to navigate between cultures while we learn to do the same.
There are few ways we can help them understand how to behave in each situation.
Family expectations: It is important to be clear on the culture of your family. This is not a national culture, but a unique culture that grows with a family. This can be made up of little norms that dictate what is acceptable behavior within your family. Little norms can be things such as; always sitting at the table to eat dinner, finishing homework before TV, being polite when answering the phone. Encourage these norms by reminding children of them when they are not following them. A good way is to say ‘in our family we don’t snatch toys’ or ‘in our family we always say thank you’. Clear guidelines can make living between cultures easier for our kids to understand.
Respecting others and being open-minded: Teaching our children to show respect to others regardless of the location is vital. When we are out and about in China, we encounter behaviors we find different to our acceptable norms. Public spitting and urinating come to mind. It is a good chance to teach our kids that we don’t like that behavior and would not like them to copy it, but we do not embarrass the local people who do find it acceptable. Shouting “ewww yuk!!!” is not acceptable behavior.
Lead by example: Children are very observant and will be taking notice of how you behave in unfamiliar situations. They will look to you for their cues on how to behave. You cannot expect them to act any differently to you. This is a good lesson to remember when driving with the kids in the car in rush hour traffic in an Asian city.
Praise often: Let your kids know when they are doing a great job. Remember these kids are learning to juggle cultures and are always looking for clues that their behavior is correct. Let them know when they are doing it right.
Have patience: Just as we can make a cultural faux pas, our kids are going to mess up sometimes too. We need to have patience when our kids make a mistake. Remind them of the right way to behave, but don’t embarrass them. They are likely to know they have made a mistake before you do and may feel highly embarrassed already. We are all learning how to live in different cultures and need a little bit of help to navigate sometimes.