Cooking together offers warm, home-centered lessons on your family's customs.

How to Teach Young Children About Beliefs & Customs

by Julie Christensen

Forget long-winded explanations and complicated lessons on beliefs and customs. Your children learn something about your family's beliefs and customs just by living, playing and working with you everyday. Whether you're planning a simple weeknight meal or a grand holiday festivity, include and share your family customs. When it comes to teaching children about others' beliefs and customs, most children are natural explorers. If you embrace an open, adventurous attitude, they'll happily follow suit.

1 Teach children about your beliefs and customs through real-life, hands-on experiences. Want to share your religious beliefs and values? Attend church regularly and share your spiritual life with your child. Pray together before meals and at bedtime. Celebrate holidays with family traditions and foods. Visit grandparents and extended family. These people can share stories about your family history and offer perspective.

2 Attend festivals, celebrations and plays to learn about the traditions and beliefs of other cultures. Strive to surround yourself with friends of different faiths and cultural backgrounds, and invite them to share their traditions with your family. Share latkes, a traditional Jewish treat, with your Jewish friends or make Lambropsoma, a traditional holiday bread, for Greek friends for Easter.

3 Tell stories. Children won't sit still for lengthy, abstract explanations, but they will love hearing stories about your childhood. Share your favorite childhood traditions and experiences.

4 Use children's literature to help explain your traditions and beliefs, as well as those of other cultures. A few favorites include "The Night Tree," by Eve Bunting, "Flower Garden," also by Eve Bunting, "Too Many Tamales," by Gary Soto, "Feast for 10," by Cathryn Falwell, and "Yoko," by Rosemary Wells.

5 Travel with your children. Mark Twain once said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." You don't have to get a passport to travel. Just touring the U.S. is enlightening. But, think outside of the box — try to avoid typical tourist scenes; choose to mingle with the natives instead.

Tip

  • Character is part of your belief system. Teach children character by treating others with kindness and respect. Be honest in every aspect of your life and avoid making snap judgments.

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