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Cultural competency for kids (and adults)

Jinny Hopp, former Human Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Cultural competence is defined as the ability of individuals to work or respond effectively across cultures in a way that acknowledges and respects the culture of another. Culturally-competent youth are respectful of the values, beliefs, traditions and customs of others.

Cultural competency is taught as parents, teachers and other role models for children teach children how to show respect. The beginnings of respect are found within the home where parents show consideration for each other by listening when the other talks, help each other with household tasks and childrearing. For very young children these behaviors allow trust to develop. As the child becomes able to do things for himself he gains confidence in his ability to interact with others safely. Also, children are naturally curious. All of these factors create an ideal situation for children to learn about the traditions of other cultures as they encounter them in the community or school.

Scholars agree that the first step to understanding another is to understand you. If we encourage our children and youth to learn about their own heritage we give them a foundation for understanding others. Experience is the best teacher for this learning. Here are some ideas for learning more about yourself as well as others:


  • Explore the place where you were born. Talk with your children/grandchildren about it.
  • Learn about your own ethnic background. Share what you learn with others.
  • Teach your children about their heritage. Explain customs, traditions, holidays that are specific to their heritage.
  • Listen to music from a variety of sources. Take a friend or relative with you to a concert.
  • Taste foods from around the globe. Compare the various ways people prepare and eat the same foods.
  • Attend a festival or fair to learn more about others. Take the opportunity to ask questions about the exhibits from the people displaying them.
  • Tune into educational television programs. Talk with others about what you have seen.
  • Consider learning another language. Just knowing a few words can be very helpful when needed.
  • Interview your elders to learn more about your family history. Share it with younger family members.
  • Visit other places. When visiting, shop where the locals shop, ride the local transit, look for neighborhood eateries, and interact with and learn from people who live there.
  • Assist children in learning appropriate ways to respect others when you disagree with them. Practice how to say “no thank you” when asked to do something you do not wish to do.
  • Teach children to listen to others. This also involves asking questions for clarification and responding respectfully.
  • Volunteer to host visitors from other places. Share your culture with them.


Cultural competence will be required of the citizens of the world in the future for business and leisure. A family can assist their children in becoming culturally competent. The best time for children to learn these skills is early and the best teachers are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.



For more information:

Williams, B. (2001). Accomplishing cross-cultural competence in youth development programs. Journal of Extension, 39. Available at:


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Last Updated 09/26/2011