Researchers at Emory University discovered that kids are emotionally healthier and have a better sense of self if they’ve been taught about their relatives and their family history. “Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world,” researchers reported in their paper titled “Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being.
Here are some ways to teach your children about their own heritage.
Start with the Earlier Generations
Grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles who are originally from other parts of the world can offer a wealth of information about their native country. Suggest that your children interview these relatives, asking questions about where they grew up, the types of foods they ate, traditions they practiced, games they played, and the holidays they celebrated. Discuss which of these traditions your family might be able to carry on such as celebrating a national holiday.
Learn with Food There are often specific types of foods associated with individual countries. An enjoyable way to learn about a country is to indulge in its most popular dishes. Teach your kids a favorite family recipe and you’ll make memories that could last a lifetime. As your kids help prepare and enjoy the food, provide some history on the origin of the meal.
Incorporate Traditions Whether you have first-hand information about your family’s cultural heritage or must go back to former generations, you can still incorporate some popular traditions for your family today. Research your family’s cultural roots and discover what practices might fit with your family’s lifestyle. It could be celebrating the country’s most popular holiday or incorporating customs into holidays that you already celebrate. Or choose one day to immerse your family into your chosen culture, serving the appropriate meals, speaking in that language (if appropriate and possible), or watching movies from that country.
Educate with Books and Movies Many books are available to teach kids about other countries. Read to your younger kids from books with characters from the country of your family’s heritage and encourage your teenagers to choose books that describe the country’s culture and history. Have a family movie night featuring a movie that takes place in that country, and then discuss the differences and similarities when compared to your hometown.
Learn the Language Parents who have emigrated from other countries are likely already teaching their kids their native language. But kids in later generations may not learn the language of their relatives. And that could be a loss, as there are many benefits of learning other languages. If you have nearby relatives in your family who speak another language, take advantage of their linguistic skills.
Explore Your Family Tree Not sure what your family’s origins are? Visit websites to discover your own family tree. Even if you must go back many generations to learn what countries your family came from before arriving in the United States, it will be fun and educational to learn the cultures and histories of those nations.
If you are looking for more inspiration to dig into your family’s heritage, you might tune into PBS’ episodes of Finding Your Roots, in which Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. helps celebrities and others discover their hidden family histories.
Learning about their family’s heritage can provide kids with an important connection to their own identities and open up a new world into other cultures and traditions. Don’t let your family’s heritage slip away without teaching it to your children.