Adopting, fostering, or caring for a child whose first culture differs from your own can present unique challenges. Along with developing healthy attachments with your children and establishing new, stable routines, creating a respect for and celebrating your child’s first culture is fundamental to their identity and development.
According to the American Psychological Association, cultural identity is a culmination of traits like race, language, hobbies, food, family roles, as well as a person’s self-conception and self-perception.
“As parents and caregivers, we are the best resource for helping our children respect and celebrate their own identities and those of others,” says Dr. Carrie Lara, PsyD of the American Psychological Association. “We can help our children learn to value their own unique identities, and to find beauty and joy in the differences around them.”
Helping Children Connect with their First Culture
For children who may have spent their early years in a culture other than the United States, arrival in America can present quite the culture shock. Helping your child connect with their first culture is a great way to encourage understanding of their developing identity.
According to The American Bar Association, strong cultural identity contributes to higher levels of social wellbeing, mental health resilience, greater self-esteem, and improved coping skills. This is particularly important for children with a history of trauma and loss, aiding in building a positive, secure future for the child.
An Adoption.org article lists the following ten opportunities for parents to help children connect to their first culture:
- Cook together. Food is one of the best ways to experience a culture! When you cook with your child, you’re making memories and giving your child a cultural experience through each dish.
- Learn about the arts. Is there a particular form of art your child’s first culture is known for? Take advantage of internet research and find ways for your child to appreciate (and maybe even learn about!) their first culture’s art.
- Read together. Consider purchasing books with characters who look like your children. Seeing someone who looks like them in books will promote your child’s pride in their first culture.
- Learn the language. Get the whole family involved and work together to learn simple words and phrases!
- Go to the movies. Similar to reading together, giving more opportunities for your child to see actors who look like them is a great way to shape their cultural identity. With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, options for entertainment are more available than ever!
- Celebrate the important holidays. Become aware of special holidays in your child’s first culture and make an effort to celebrate them! Like learning a language, this is a fun experience for the whole family.
- Find multicultural centers. Check to see if there is a local multicultural center near you. Multicultural centers host events that may help pique your child’s interest in their first home.
- Find racial mirrors. A recent Families Are Forever blog post explains the importance of mentorship for your child and lists how you can find a mentor who will be able to naturally share with him or her.
- Travel. If possible, consider taking your child, along with your family, on a trip to their first country! Travel with the whole family provides a unique opportunity for your child to experience and explore their first culture from a secure base of love.
- Be open. Remain open to integrating your child’s first culture into the activities you enjoy with your child. When you welcome a child into your family through international adoption, you gain a country. How exciting!
Fostering a Child Whose Culture Differs From Yours
Fostering a child with a different ethnicity and culture than your own is similar to adopting a child from another culture. An article from Washington Association for Children & Families (WACF) says, “Children in the foster care system have often gone through significant trauma and instability before they arrive in your home. Before the child can begin to grow and thrive, it’s your job as a foster parent to bring stability that comes by showing them consistent love and support in a way that works for them and the culture that they have grown up with.”
From cultural biases to language barriers, it won’t always be easy to be a foster parent to a child from another culture or ethnicity. WACF suggests, if possible, you talk to the child’s biological family to learn what makes the child feel comfortable and loved. Also work to make sure that your child is not always the minority while in your care – the most effective foster parents go out of their comfort zones and put themselves in the minority! Give the child a chance to be surrounded with faces, language, clothing, and hairstyles that are familiar. Additionally, if the child is old enough to explain, consider asking them special ways they celebrate their culture.
Lastly, WACF encourages foster parents, reminding them they are not alone. “The child placement agency likely either has resources in-house that can help you or knows other qualified organizations that can help. Reach out to them early and often. They’re committed to help because they’re just as committed as you are to the growth of the foster child in your care.”
What if My Child Doesn’t Remember His or Her First Culture?
Your child may have been so young when they came into your care that they don’t remember the details of their first culture. However, this doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to honor and celebrate the culture in any way you can!
Continue exposing your child in engaging, fun ways to their first culture, showing them it’s something your entire family loves to celebrate and honor. Keep in mind, though, that as your child grows older, they will begin to own the process of finding and unifying their identity and you’ll take on the role of cheerleading as they do so.
Country-Specific Educational Courses
Families Are Forever also has resources to help families honor their child’s first culture!
As part of an international adoption through Hague Accredited countries, Hague requirements include the need to understand the history, culture, traditions, racial, religious, ethnic, and linguistic background of your child. Our country-specific courses provide a strong foundation for learning about each country, designed to inspire your thinking of how to honor and inspire your child about their birthplace and people.
- China (with a separate Hong Kong heritage course)
- The Philippines
- South Africa
- South Korea
In addition to these resources, the Families Are Forever team is willing to listen to your experiences and research and learn alongside your family. It’s our goal to find ways of supporting children and families in their journey toward growth and health.