Tag Archives: Family

Connect your Child with their Cultural Identity

Identifying your culture and cultural values

If you do an internet search on connecting children to their cultural identity, you’ll mostly find articles for adoptive parents connecting their child to a culture of origin that is different from that of the parents. You’ll find a handful of articles for parents who are part of a religious or ethnic minority group. There is little about how people from any background might do it.

I think people who view themselves as part of “mainstream America” may often not think of themselves as having a cultural identity. I have heard people, when asked their  identity, respond “umm…. white?? American?? I don’t really have a cultural identity.”

But clearly, we are shaped by our background. I have a friend who is my age, Caucasian like me, and “American.” But I was raised in a church-going, military family of four in Wyoming. She was an only child raised by a liberal single mom in Berkeley in the early 70’s. So although that friend and I have a lot of common from our current perspectives, we’ve certainly run across times when we have very different assumptions about ‘how the world works’ and ‘how things are done.’

And that’s what defines cultural identity: what are those unconscious assumptions about big picture ideas like how the world works, what is our role in the community, and the significance of the family. It’s also the little things: when we get up in the morning, when we eat dinner, what we eat. Sometimes you don’t understand something is your culture until you encounter a different culture. Again, it’s sometimes in the little things: at my family’s holiday meals, the cook worked hard to get everything to the table hot and at the peak of perfection – to wait to eat it would have been horribly rude. In college, when I visited friends, I discovered (after some shocked looks sent my way) that in other families, it is horribly rude to start eating before everyone (including the cook) is seated.

Like a fish learning to describe water, the first step of connecting your child to a cultural identity may be for you to figure out what that identity is!

Here are topics you may want to think about:

  • What is your cultural background?
  • How might that be the same or different from other people in your child’s community?
  • What are some of cultural values that resonate with you? Are there values or attitudes you would like to leave behind?
  • What things in your life have helped you connect to your cultural identity?
  • What traditions or rituals do you want to continue to follow?

Sometimes talking with other people about their culture, or reading books from diverse cultures, can help you to understand your own better. I would recommend Parenting without Borders as a great introduction to other cultures’ approaches to parenting.

Beginning to talk about culture

We don’t have to wait till children are “old enough” to understand religion and culture to begin talking about it. Like everything else in their lives, from food to books to dressing themselves, we talk from the beginning about all the things they experience, and trust that their understanding of it will grow and deepen as they get older.

Young children are very concrete. They learn through hands-on experience, and through observing the important people in their lives. They don’t really learn through abstract conversations about abstract ideas. They also learn through repetition, so as you begin to think about what parts of your cultural identity and values you want to reinforce, keep that in mind.

Culture: Routines, Rituals, and Traditions

For a toddler, life often seems unpredictable and random. Routines create a reassuring sense of structure in a child’s life – the more they know what is coming next, the more manageable life seems for them. They appreciate the sense gained from daily routines that ‘this is how my family does things.’ Ritual and traditions take that to the next level: ‘this is how my people do things and how we have done things for a very long time’. For example, from annual holiday traditions, they gain a sense of how time passes, bringing with it lots of change, but also retaining some important cores.

Some places to consider adding rituals or traditions:

  • Daily: How do you begin your days together? What are mealtimes like? What is the typical rhythm of the day? What’s the bedtime routine?
  • Weekly: Could you do “family date nights”? Weekly dinners with extended family?
  • Holidays: Which do you celebrate? How do you celebrate? What are the special decorations? Foods? Gifts?
  • Special occasions: Does the tooth fairy come to your house? What do you do for birthdays? Weddings?
  • Other family traditions: Do you have nicknames or family in-jokes or songs? Stories about the funny quirks of relatives?

Some ways to include cultural identity in your child’s life:

  • Tell stories. Talk about your childhood, how your family did things, about their grandparents’ childhoods, and so on.
  • Read books about your culture, listen to ethnic music or the music your parents played/sang when you were young, eat foods that were traditional where you were raised. (That’s Jello salad and snickerdoodle cookies for me!)
  • Learn the language of your culture. (Or share with your children the regional dialect of English that you were raised with.)
  • Go to religious services or cultural festivals.
  • Make scrapbooks with information about your family’s history: a family tree, photographs, documents of your family’s journey

Learn more: www.growparenting.com/pages/blog_files/Building-Cultural-Identity.php

Extended Family

At this time of year, many families are traveling to visit other family members, or longing to spend time with faraway family, or overloading on time with local family. Check out last year’s posts on Building Relationships with Family Near and Far; Staying Connected with Family Long-Distance, and Resolving Differences with Extended Family.

Getting Outside: Overcoming the Barriers to Outdoor Play

Spending time outside is great for kids’ physical health, mental health, and cognitive development. (Read about those benefits here). Plus, outdoor play is FUN!!

But although most parents say they would like their kids to have more outdoor time, they also see lots of barriers that prevent them from making it happen. How do we overcome those barriers and go play outside? Look below for tips on coping with: lack of access to nature, safety issues, lack of time, the inconvenience of muddy clothes, dressing for the weather, lack of interest in the outdoors (for child or parent!) and lack of playmates outside.

Perceived barrier: Lack of access to nature

(it’s too expensive, too far away, I lack the skills)

In several surveys, modern parents and children often say that there is no nature where they live. They say that outdoor recreation is too expensive, or that outdoor opportunities are too far away, or that they lack the knowledge and skills to participate in outdoor recreation. When asked to describe outdoor recreation, they often talk about things like national parks, ski areas, theme parks, water skiing, kayaking, and mountaineering. If you had asked a parent in the 1950’s where their kids play outside, they would have said: the backyard, the garden, the park, or the school yard. If you’d asked what activities their kids did outside, the first things that would come to mind would be: climb trees, dig in the dirt, and throw rocks.

Outdoor time doesn’t just mean a week-long camping trip in Yellowstone. It could mean just a little time outside every day on that little strip of grass at the corner of the apartment parking lot. It could be walking to school and noticing the plants, rocks and bugs in the neighbors’ yards. It could mean finding a little “patch of nature” that you can visit once a week. Maybe that’s a city park, but maybe it’s an empty lot in a residential neighborhood. (when my girls were little, we visited an empty lot two blocks from the Microsoft corporate campus, we saw coyotes, rabbits and snakes, and picked all the blackberries we could eat.) By looking further afield, you may find hiking trails, lakes, streams, arboretums, botanical gardens, farms, nature preserves, beaches, sandboxes, and other places to dig in the dirt. And for most of them, you can bring a picnic lunch and stay all day without spending any money.

For ideas for outdoor activities in an urban area, search online. Here’s a couple blog posts to get you started: http://projectwildthing.com/posts/view/296 and http://projectwildthing.com/posts/view/304.

If you feel like you lack the knowledge or skills for outdoor adventures, start small and simple with visits to the local park. When you’re ready, you can take on new challenges on your own. Or visit local outdoor supply stores to see if they offer classes, or check with your local parks department for classes and for group outings with an experienced guide.

You can also check out websites for lots of tips on outdoor activities with kids and how to make them successful. Try http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/family.html

Perceived barrier: Safety (traffic, stranger danger, etc.)

Parents often say “it’s just not as safe for kids to play outdoors as it used to be.” But statistics actually show that the rate of abduction by strangers has stayed steady for many years, and the risk of car-pedestrian accidents has decreased significantly.

  • Traffic: Choose outdoor play areas and neighborhoods with minimal traffic risks. Teach your child pedestrian safety rules (crossing at crosswalks, looking both ways, not running out into the street after a ball, and so on). Don’t allow children to play in the street. Yes, many of us played in the street when we were young, but drivers expected that then and watched out for it… they don’t now.
  • Note: “children at play” signs are not shown to be helpful at reducing risk – they don’t have much impact on driver behavior, but they do lead parents and children to have a false sense of confidence – which then leads them to behavior that puts them at risk
  • If you have specific concerns about traffic in your neighborhood, try contacting your city to see if there’s anything they can do. (here’s an example from my hometown.)
  • Some basics: it’s OK to talk to strangers when mom or dad are right there with you, but your parents aren’t there, don’t talk to the stranger. If an adult says they need help (with directions, with finding a lost puppy, etc.) then go to a trusted adult and let them know. Be sure your children know their full names, parents’ phone numbers, and where the trusted adults are near their home.
  • Enlist your neighbors. Get to know your neighbors, and make sure your kids get to know them too. Tell them you’ll help look out for their kids. Encourage them to help keep an eye on your kids.
  • Child’s Age: some parents worry about taking babies outside – “they might get dirty”, “they might eat dirt.” Read this article on benefits of outdoor play for babies: www.janetlansbury.com/2014/06/your-babys-call-of-the-wild-guest-post-by-angela-hanscom/
  • Risk of injury in outdoor settings: Unlike a modern playground, a natural setting has not been intentionally designed to meet rigorous safety standards. There may be sharp edges and hard surfaces and thorns and stinging insects. Whenever you’re out in nature with your child, be aware of potential hazards, show them to your child, and educate her about how to be safe if she encounters those things on solo adventures. There’s no need to frighten, but it is a good idea to teach caution and a healthy respect for nature.
  • Although there are potential risks outdoors, parents should remember that developing the habit of staying indoors all the time also carries risks: increasing the long-term chances of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Perceived barrier: No time in the schedule

  • Homework: Some parents say “my kid has so much homework to do, it takes him forever, and we don’t have time left to go outside.” If that child was allowed to run and play outdoors for a half hour after school, research indicates that would help him concentrate better when he did settle down to homework, thus perhaps reducing homework time.
  • Extracurriculars: Children certainly benefit from organized activities that teach specific skills (e.g. piano lessons, baseball team) but there are unique benefits to unstructured play time, especially if that takes place outdoors. Finding a balance in the week’s schedule that allows for some unstructured time is the best option for maximizing a child’s learning potential.
  • Can your time do double-duty? Instead of driving to a store across town, could you walk outdoors to a store nearby? Instead of sitting in the car with one child while you’re waiting to pick up the other one from school, can you go for a short walk or play outside? If you work out in a gym, could you take your exercise outside and do it while your child plays?
  • Consider looking for a nature-based preschool or “forest kindergarten” to do double duty between school and outdoor play. Don’t worry that your child will miss out on academic skills if they don’t spend their preschool hours sitting at desks with pencil and paper. Outdoor time is great for brain development and they will be very ready for school when it comes around.

Perceived barrier: Outdoor play is inconvenient

  • Dirty clothes and dirty kids: Outdoor play is definitely messy. Parents may need to increase their tolerance for mess. It also helps to plan ahead: carry a full extra set of clothes, including socks and shoes, in the car at all times. Some parents carry a washcloth and some water in case you need to scrub the child down before putting on the clean clothes. It also helps to have a towel to cover up the car seat if needed (or I also use the towel to dry off wet swings and slides on winter playgrounds.)
  • Parents’ responsibilities: Parents say it’s hard to get things done (like cooking dinner) if the child is playing outside and needs to be supervised.
    • Can the child play outside without supervision? (with clear boundaries and safety proofing set up in advance, of course)
    • Can you team up with another parent and take turns supervising?
    • Can you take any of your work outside? You may not be able to do laundry outside, but with modern technology, you may be able to make phone calls, read and respond to email, catch up on Facebook, or read materials for work while your child plays outdoors. (Note: make sure you don’t spend all your time wired to the screen – parents benefit from outdoor play too!)
    • Note: If you find your kids are often being wild indoors when you’re trying to work, try taking a break to go outside and play. When you return inside, they may settle down.

Perceived barrier: Kids say outside is uncomfortable

  • Too hot: Plan your outings for early in the morning, or late in the evening. Consider lightweight sun-protective clothing, and a lightweight hat with a brim.
  • Too cold / too wet: Teachers at outdoor preschools and forest kindergartens (go to YouTube to learn more about these!) often say “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” It’s well worth investing in a good pair of waterproof boots (I love my son’s Bogs rain boots and snow boots– they cost more than I usually spend on kids’ clothes (I get all their clothes at consignment shops), but they are easy for him to walk in, unlike most boots that flop around on kids’ feet, and they’re so waterproof he can wade in streams without his socks getting wet) and rain gear. We liked our Oakiwear rain pants and rain jacket. A friend swears by the Muddy Buddy Overalls.  Here are some more tips for how to dress for the outdoors in winter: www.raisingwildones.com/2014/01/how-to-dress-kids-for-winter-outdoor-play.html and how to dress for rain: www.modernparentsmessykids.com/2012/10/outdoor-preschool-how-to-dress-for-hours-of-rain-cold.html
  • Some young children do not like getting their hands dirty. Offer them shovels and tools to use, or you might even offer lightweight gloves if needed.
  • Good shoes are important: flexible soles are nice for dexterity, but they need to be thick enough that the child can’t feel rocks and sticks through them. Avoid open sandals and clogs that let in (and then trap) sand, pebbles, and bark. (I like water shoes for summer days at the lake or beach, as they can wear them in and out of the water and protect their feet.)

Perceived barrier: Kids aren’t interested

  • Kids would rather stay inside and watch TV / play video games / use the computer.
    • Don’t assume this to be true. When surveyed, many kids say they prefer outdoor time.
    • This is less likely to be true for kids who have spent a lot of time outside since they were small. It’s more likely to be true for kids who haven’t had any significant positive experiences outside. Getting those kids out to have those experiences may help.
    • Sometimes transitions are the hard part – you may have to force the issue of turning off the screen and getting outside, but after a while outside they usually settle in.
  • “There’s nothing to do!” If you have been taking your child outside to play since he was young, you’re less likely to hear that complaint. But if you have a child who is used to the high intensity stimulation of video games and amusement parks, it can be hard to slow down to enjoy the quieter pleasures of the outdoors. Having ideas for what to do outdoors may help.
  • Try to allow your child some freedom outside. Kids who are given a little extra independence are more interested in going out to play.

Perceived barrier: There’s no one to play with

It’s often disappointing to kids if they go outside to play and discover they’re the only ones there. Here are some strategies:

  • Find families who are focused on spending time outdoors: Check out your local parks department, campgrounds, and outdoor supply stores for classes, camps, and guided hikes. When you attend, make an active effort to network with other parents and set up future activities together. You can also search online (Meetup.com, Facebook) for “children and nature” groups, or look for local outdoors clubs, or search for a Nature Club (or learn how to start your own) at www.childrenandnature.org/movement/naturalfamilies/clubs/
    • If your child takes outdoor sports classes near your home, try to connect with some of those families who live nearby. It could be they’d also enjoy unstructured playtime outdoors too.
  • Encourage your existing circle of friends to play outdoors: When it’s your turn to host a playdate, make it an outdoor one. When friends are planning a gathering, encourage them to consider an outdoor site. Even if you’ve invited a child over to play on a rainy day where most of your time will be inside, be sure to spend a little time outdoors. Having some fun, unique outdoor play options can sweeten the deal.
  • Connect with the neighbor kids and parents.
    • Let them know that you would love a neighborhood where kids play outside together. Talk about how to make that happen. Offer to supervise other children.
    • Don’t worry if the kids are a wide range of ages. One of the benefits of unstructured outdoor play is that it works really well for multi-aged groups.
    • Try setting an “outdoor hour” at least once a week (hopefully more) when everyone tries to get their kids out together and where kids can rotate between multiple yards.
    • Set one day a week as “walk to school” day. Or organize walk-pools where parents take turns escorting kids on a walk to school instead of all the parents driving alone.

Perceived barrier: “I’m just not an outdoors person…”

Some parents feel like they should get their kids outside more, because they have heard about the benefits of outdoor time. But they find themselves dreading outdoor time because they have not enjoyed it in the past. It’s OK to start small, and with simple things that seem manageable to you. Yes, some parents take their kids wilderness camping or mountain biking or white water rafting. Maybe you just take your child to the playground often, or walk at botanical gardens, or go to the zoo, or just notice nature around you as you shop downtown. Yes, some families spend hours outside every day and go on week-long campouts every summer. You may manage one hour a week of intentional outdoor time. Do what you can. You may find that as you start small and have experiences you enjoy you may become more of an outdoors person and look forward to these times.

What will you do?

Some experts recommend that parents commit to a “green hour” – one hour a day that their kids spend outside. Does that seem do-able to you? Could you make that a goal to shoot for, even if you know there’s lots of days you won’t make it? On the days you do, congratulate yourself!

By spending time with our kids outdoors, we can develop life-long habits of getting outside and being active. This will mean our kids experience less stress, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, ADHD and sensory issues, and depression. And they’ll probably do better in school. It’s well worth the effort!

Staying Connected with Family Long-Distance

Unlike much of human history, where all the relatives were within a very short distance, today’s parents are often separated from their extended family by hundreds or thousands of miles. (For example, amongst parents who participated in PEPS support groups in Seattle, only 42% had family they could count on for support within a half hour drive versus 22% “longer drive”, and 34% “too far to drive.”)

However, with the assistance of modern technology and travel, it’s possible to build and maintain friendships over the miles.


Good old-fashioned snail mail is very appealing to children – they love having something tangible to open and look at. This doesn’t have to mean a hand-written letter. A grandparent could send postcards, or an envelope with a few stickers in it, or a puzzle from a magazine, or the comics. We don’t get a newspaper at home, and years ago when my girls visited my parents, they loved reading the comics in the paper my parents subscribe to. Ever since then, my parents pack up the Sunday comics every few weeks and send them to the girls. Now half of the comics come to our house, and the others go to my oldest daughter at college to share with her dorm mates.

Skype and Phone Calls

Phone calls are nice. But Skype is even better! Being able to see the child’s face will be precious to your family. And for your young children, having the image of the face as well as the voice makes a huge difference in helping them to connect. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of calls:

  • Prep your family member ahead of time with ideas for questions to ask that will help engage the child in a conversation. With a toddler, you might tell family to ask “what does a dog say? What does a cat say” and so on. With a teenager, you might clue in your family in advance that they should ask about a movie your child recently saw, or a trip you’re planning.
  • Prep your child ahead of time by reminding them what they know about that family member.
  • Remember that toddler attention spans are short. Short but frequent calls are better for building relationships. A 2 minute call every day is more fun than 15 minutes once a week.
  • Some people read a story book to the child over the phone / computer. This may be easier for a young child to engage in than a conversation is. They could read the same book every week and the child would probably love that! (When they visit, they can read it in person!)
  • Some grandparents like to do “magic”: they coordinate with you to have a snack at home that they also have. They can then “send it through the phone” and you make it magically appear.

Recordings and Photos

  • Search for “recordable storybooks” on Amazon, or at Hallmark.com, and you’ll find several picture books that a family member can record their voice on, telling the story.
  • Film a family member talking or telling stories, or giving your child a tour of their home or one of their favorite places. Your child can watch it again and again.
  • Photos: have photos of family members around the house, and talk about those people often. (And not just formal portraits on the wall! Also have snapshots the child can carry around.)
  • Take plenty of pictures when family members visit. Make a scrapbook. Review it with your child before the next visit.

Other recommended articles: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grandparenting.htm




Building Relationships with Family Near or Far

Having your child’s grandparents, aunts, and uncles involved in their lives can be a wonderful thing. Whether your family lives down the road or around the world, here are some tips to help build a positive relationship.

Time Together

  • Encourage your family member to establish a ritual that they do with the child every time they get together – something as simple as going to the park to swing (no matter the weather), going for a walk to get an ice cream cone, working on a craft project or puzzle together.
  • Rather than bringing gifts on each visit, encourage your family member to bring simple things that they can DO WITH THE CHILD. Like puzzles, paints, a game, a book to read.
  • Playing board games or card games together can be a nice way to interact. Your family will see your child’s growing skills, and your child will learn about rules and fair play.
  • Have your child spend time alone with family members, without you always there, and without siblings along. A trip to the library or the local park can be a nice outing.

Gifts and Traditions

  • Encourage family members to create traditions. My mother has made every Halloween costume for my kids over the years, and they have had the joy of picking any character from any book or movie for Grandma to re-create. (Some have been pretty challenging!)
  • Encourage family members to give gifts that showcase their talents. If they knit, sew, cook, take photos, or build things, then that gift has its own meaning, but also gives you a chance to talk to your child about all the cool things the grandparents know how to do.

Comforts of Home

Children are reassured by routine and predictability. Although my husband rarely visited his grandmother in England, he knew that when he did, there would be buttered bread and digestive biscuits. My grandparents lived nearby, and at one house, I knew I would find home-made taffy, coloring books and Reader’s Digests. At the other house, there were always word-search puzzles and my grandmother’s collection of little ceramic and metal shoes, which I could play with if I was very careful. Encourage your family members to think about what the reliable treats will be at their house.

Common Interests

Find things your child has in common with family members, and encourage them to share that interest. My toddler son and his grandpa spend a lot of time talking about trains! My teenage daughter and her aunt go on Starbucks runs and shopping trips together.

Share family stories

  • Talk to your kids about your childhood, your parents, what their lives were like when they’re younger, and what they do now. This helps to ground your child in the history of the family.
  • Encourage family to share their memories of day-to-day life when they were young, and their memories of historical events. This gives your child a deeper understanding of the past.

Encourage your children to reach out to other family members for advice and support

  • Let them know there are other adults in their life they can count on for wisdom and empathy.

Look for a continuation of this article tomorrow with more ideas on connecting to long-distance family members.