How Teaching Children about Cultural Differences Will Support Their Adult Holistic Success.

Children Thrive when they learn to appreciate diversity

by Paula Elizabeth


I was asked to write an article for the magazine and I decided that with the end of the year coming that brings several different cultural celebrations – Divali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa – that it would be useful for parents if I wrote about how Teaching children about cultural differences supports their adult holistic success. The reason I have chosen to demonstrate how it will support their adult holistic success is because everyone is forgiving of a child who is still learning.  It is as adults that we feel the benefit of this learning and as children that we are most willing to embrace it.

The ability to get on with other people is paramount to our success. We hear about so many terrible situations occurring when people seem unable to successfully form positive, amicable relationships. Even in the workplace you are apparently 17 times more likely to be promoted if you attend the company socials. Why do you think this is? Because you receive an opportunity to speak to people senior to you socially when they are out of “work mode”, which means they’re more relaxed and receptive to you. If they enjoy speaking with you socially; who do you think is going to come to mind next time there’s a promotion? Seems unfair? – Promotion should be about ability and it is to an extent; it’s also about likeability. If you have to “nouse” to converse with the boss in the “right way” subconsciously they will start to believe that you have the “nouse” to cope with more responsibility.

So how does teaching children about different cultures fit into this? Well in today’s multi-cultural society there are successful people in high positions from all over the World. Plus, the more successful you are, the more likely you are to travel with work. Even if you are a Teacher, or a nurse and this isn’t part of the job requirement you’re likely to have pupils/ patients from all over the World and you’ll teach/ care for them better if you understand a bit about their cultural background. People love it when you take an interest in their culture. When on holiday in Cyprus I would say; Type text or a website address or translate a document.

Kaliméra ti káneis” which means, “Good morning, how are you?” The Cypriots were delighted, they said; “You speak Greek!”  In response they wanted to do more for me and show me a bit more about their culture because they were so pleased at my interest. That was from merely from taking an interest in speaking their language. Can you see how just a little effort meant that I gained more? – I didn’t do it for that reason! – It was just a result I noticed from showing an interest.

Joe Navarro, an ex-FBI Agent put forward in his book about body language entitled; What Every Body is Saying, that when planning to travel abroad, especially for business it is wise to ensure you “understand the cultural conventions of the country that you are visiting”, (Navarro, 2008, p 138). Dr. Albert Mehrabian, who is the author of Silent Messages, has conducted numerous studies on nonverbal communication. He discovered that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words!!! – Can you believe how little that is?! 38% of any communication is through various vocal elements, and a whole 55% (over half!) is through the nonverbal elements such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc. So it is far more important than what most people realize to be aware of what we’re communicating through our body language both within our own culture and with that of other cultures.

Imagine how much more successful your trip would be if you even just had an idea of the basic cultural conventions? – This would be especially significant on a business trip, or if you were going to do something like teach English as a foreign language. I would also imagine that for someone in the army this could be the difference in deciphering whether a person is “friend”, or “foe”. Navarro goes on to say; “Accepting cultural differences is the first step to better understanding and embracing diversity” (Navarro, 2008, p 139). Navarro recognizes that our reluctance to accept certain cultural differences because it puts us outside our comfort zone prevents us from forming closer connections and friendships with people from different cultures.

However, if you give children even just a basic understanding of these differences at an age when they are uninhibited and willing to learn then they can grow up freely accepting and embracing them and forming much closer connections with people from all over the World. This is obviously better for both their personal and professional success, not to mention the security for everyone that it could potentially bring.

In their book, The Definitive Book of Body Language, Allan and Barbara Pease have devoted a whole chapter to cultural differences, (Pease, 2005, pp107-124). They put forward 16 different hand gestures and say what each one means in different cultures from all over the World. You’d be surprised to see how some gestures that are positive in western cultures have a negative, or threatening meaning in other cultures – something worth learning to increase success of any kind when visiting other countries. Children love learning about things like this and they would probably remember the meanings of the different signs better than you!

Did you know that it’s also considered disgusting in Japan to blow your nose with a tissue? The British gentile fashion of having a handkerchief protruding from ones pocket is positively abhorrent to the Japanese and very uncouth. Tell this to a bunch of pre-schoolers you have them giggling and full of questions. They would definitely take an interest in learning about it and remember most of what they learnt because it would be amusing for them. – So if you have a cold maybe it’s an idea to postpone any business trip to Japan!

Other cultures can also have different acceptable personal space barriers. Westerners like their personal space and there is an “unwritten rule” that we’re all subconsciously aware of that outlines this space. The only time someone’s personal space can be invaded in western culture is either by a loved one or on a crowded train. However in Italy it is acceptable to stand much closer without invading someone’s personal space. This is a good thing to be aware of to avoid any misinterpretations. Children would be far more willing to accept this difference as they are happy to embrace everyone. The only time they proceed with caution is if they told by a guardian adult to. Most of the time this caution will be warranted; however there are also time it can create unnecessary prejudice and it’s this that should be avoided.

As Allen and Barbara Pease put forward; “People do business with people who make them feel comfortable”, (Pease, 2005, p124). Just making a bit of extra effort to understand and appreciate different cultures could make an enormous difference. It will increase your likability and draw more people (and business) to you. On the whole it is as children that we are most will to accept and embrace such differences and being taught even just a few of them from a young age could make such a difference to the holistic success of your child’s adult life. It’s could even make a “World difference” if we are willing to step outside our comfort zone and really take on board the importance of learning about cultural differences both personally and religiously.

Personally I love learning about other cultures; how they do things, their religious celebrations and the significance of each one. I have friends from all over the World and I definitely ensure to pass on my positive approach to learning about cultures on to all children I teach.



This is Paula-Elizabeth, a Montessori Teacher with nearly 15 years of experience both in classroom and home settings. As a result of her experiences she has spend her life paying particular attention to family dynamics and endeavoring to answer the questions; what make a human-being holistically happy and successful? Plus, how can we support this whilst children are growing up right from the start? And she is now at the point of her journey where she is ready to share those answers.



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