4 Ways to Teach Black Children The Importance of Tradition and Family


Family is an important hallmark of Black culture.  It used to be that teaching kids how to value family was pretty straightforward, even when generations were separated geographically.  Parents, for example, might send their kids down South with “Big Mama” and other elders for the summer.  My husband talks fondly about traveling to southern Alabama every summer with his grandparents and enjoying the time with his great-uncles, great-aunts and cousins.

Families have changed a lot since then.  How close family members live to each other, who makes up your family, even how family is defined.  In terms of my immediate family, we are blessed to live near both my and my husband’s extended family.  We also have our church family, who we consider just as important as our blood relatives.  For you, it may be different.  With all this diversity, it can be hard to figure out who and what family is.  And if it’s hard for us to pin down, it’s even harder for our kids.  But we still want our kids to have a sense of family.  How do we nurture that?  These four questions and activities will help.

Who’s In Your Family?
One activity you can do is to have your kids draw their family.  Get out a piece of paper and drawing instruments (e.g. crayons, coloring pencils, pens).  Ask your kids to draw the people they see as part of their family.  After they are done, ask them questions about the picture.  Who’s in the picture?  Why did you put them in the picture?

Where Does Your Family Come From?
You can also use this as an opportunity to speak to them about their genealogy and family origins.  Who are your parents’ parents?  Where did they grow up?  Where did they come from?  To bring this more to life, you can visit a local Black History museum if you are near one. Visit exhibits geared towards the history of the family.  Kids love learning about how other kids lived long ago.  Ask them questions about the exhibits.  What were some things that families did generations ago?  Were they surprised?  Would they want to do those things now?  Encourage them to ask their elders about what they learned.  Did Grandma used to be a sharecropper?  Did Granddaddy participate in Civil Rights demonstrations?  Even the everyday things.  Did their great-aunt grow her own veggies?  Did their great-uncle wear suits everyday?

What Traditions Does Your Family Have?
You can also develop family traditions to teach kids about building connections as a family.  One tradition our family has is Family Movie Night on Friday, which has temporarily turned into Family Shark Tank Friday.  We gather in the living room, relax, and discuss whose businesses seem like good ideas.  In terms of holidays, one thing we do is spend New Year’s Eve together, bringing the New Year in wearing our PJs and cuddled up together on the couch.

What Makes A Family A Family?
But teaching kids about family is not just about teaching them about their families, but family diversity.  Kids are bound to see all kinds of families in the world today and wonder what makes them a family.  One activity you can do is called Family Hands.  I use the metaphor of hands because a common thread through all families is a sense of being linked together, of holding hands together.  Sit down with your kids, this handout or some blank paper, and some drawing instruments.  Ask them to think about their family.  What do they like about their family?  What things do you all do together?  Do you help each other?  Look out for each other?  Go fun places together?  If they can write, have them write something they like for each finger on the handout.  If not, ask them to draw their family doing an activity together.  Then explain to them that these qualities are what makes them a family.  Ask them if they’ve seen these qualities in other families and whether these families look like theirs.  Do they have a mom?  A dad?  Brothers? Sisters? Aunts? Uncles? Grandparents? Help kids understand that families don’t all have to look alike to be happy together.

Nurturing an appreciation for family in your kids can help them and you in many ways.  They may be more helpful, more secure and kinder to others.  Not only that, they will understand how much their ancestors had to work to keep families together.

What are some ways you nurture an appreciation for family with your kids?