Raising a Child with Cultural Intelligence



“When you’re in the sky looking down at the earth, there are no boundaries. No borders.”

These words are spoken by King Arthur in Camelot, and in the 21st century, they ring true on many levels. Today our world is borderless, meaning that people are connected with others around the globe like never before, in part due to technology.

Previous generations could live their entire lives surrounded by people who looked like them and believed in the same things they did. Some people still live this way, but most of us regularly encounter others who think and live in ways that are radically different from ourselves.

Here are a few facts that illustrate how our world is shrinking:

  • 1 billion tourist visas are issued annually, and the number keeps rising.
  • 49 percent of U.S. kids ages 5 and younger are children of color.
  • More than 1 million university students study abroad annually.
  • China will soon be the number one English-speaking country in the world.

If the world is becoming increasingly globalized at such a rapid pace, think about what it will be like when our children are grown and navigating life on their own.

In his book The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can’t Do Without in Today’s Global Economy, author David Livermore writes that the number one predictor of a person’s success in a borderless world is not their IQ, resume or expertise, but rather their CQ (cultural intelligence or cultural quotient).

He defines CQ as “the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts—including national, ethnic, organizational and generational.” Research conducted over the past decade shows that people with a high CQ are able to adapt and thrive in a complex global society.

Elaine Wilson, an elementary teacher in Belton who spent portions of her childhood in Japan, Morocco and Thailand, feels strongly that children—and adults—be aware of other cultures and learn about their similarities and differences.

“I believe that by being culturally aware we can overcome biases, prejudices, if you will,” she says. “If we can open our minds to the possibilities of thoughts and dogma much different than our own, we can be more understanding of other cultures' mindsets.”

More so than previous generations, today’s kids need a unique set of skills to succeed in our diverse global village. So how can parents and other caregivers boost their child’s cultural intelligence?

First, parents need to realize there are four parts to cultural intelligence: knowing, understanding, motivation to learn and the ability to adjust. The first two can be fairly easy to introduce to younger kids, but the latter two are typically navigated by tweens and teens, when they are apt to be in culturally diverse settings and learn to act in appropriate ways.

Ways to Increase Your Child’s Cultural Intelligence

  • Boost Your Own CQ. Children need a guide to navigate through life, and what better role model than their own parents? Learn a new language, seek friendships with those who are culturally different than you and expose yourself (and your family) to other cultures.
  • Talk about stereotypes. Ask your kids to examine their own cultural beliefs, then discuss how stereotypes can damage relationships. For example, believing that people of a certain culture are lazy or greedy is stereotyping. Children can learn this negative behavior from family, friends, classmates and even TV and movies.
  • Attend multicultural and ethnic festivals. Kansas City has numerous opportunities for families to broaden their views and become acquainted with people, traditions and foods from other cultures. Two examples of many are the Ethnic Enrichment Festival, held in Swope Park every August (EECKC.net), and the Wyandotte County Ethnic Festival, held at Kansas City Kansas Community College in April (Freewebs.com/WyCoEthnicFestival/).
  • Build an eclectic music library. Music is an easy way to explore other cultures, so make a point to listen to tunes from around the world. Putumayo.com is a site dedicated to introducing people to the world’s music and has a page geared toward kids.
  • Be a tourist in Kansas City. Go to an international or ethnic grocery story, visit a mosque, attend services from a different culture or religion and explore museums that feature diverse cultures—our wonderful city has much to offer beyond our own familiar lifestyles.
  • Diversify your holidays. We are often set in our own holiday traditions, but why not research how other cultures celebrate holidays? Your family can keep its rituals, but also introduce a new cultural game or custom.
  • Learn another language. Becoming bilingual—or multilingual—will give kids an advantage in our global society. Classes, CDs, DVDs, books and the Internet can be useful tools in learning a new language. Consider making it a family effort.
  • Talk about differences. Anything that is “different” to a child can become either a cultural bias or an opportunity for learning and growth. Talk about how differences make each of us unique and make the world a more interesting place. Culturally intelligent kids are aware of their own identity and have a respect for individual differences, too.
  • Encourage kids to keep an open mind. Elaine Wilson says, “We do not have to agree with the ways of other cultures, but we should understand their beliefs and how they practice the art of living.” Teach your kids it’s normal to sometimes be confused about another culture’s way of life, but that keeping an open mind is essential.
  • Think big. Consider hosting an exchange student or visiting another country. Not everyone has the means or opportunity to do these things, of course, but perhaps they could be a goal down the road.

Tisha Foley and her family make their home in Belton.

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