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Teaching Multicultural Kids the "No Offense Meant Mindset"

Helping our multicultural kids learn to give the benefit of the doubt will help them be happier in their relationships and in life.

Young multiracial girl in brown dress smiles at the camera while sitting on the ground.

"Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different."

-Indra Nooyi

School Classrooms. Social Media. Sporting Events. Neighborhood Playgrounds. Popular Entertainment. Friends’ Homes. Everyday environments are where our children are exposed to culturally insensitive and offensive situations. As multicultural parents, we want to protect our children from ever being in this position, but that’s not realistic. Instead, we should be preparing our children for how to respond when placed in a potentially negative situation so that they can have the confidence to stand up for themselves and their cultures.

The first step is to help them understand what they’re feeling when someone offends them. With younger kids, emotions can be complicated to understand, let alone define.

I would define the word offensive as "a comment, gesture, or other action that is given with the deliberate intention of degrading or mocking an individual or group of individuals." For younger kids, it would be simplified to "when someone says or does something to hurt you or someone else on purpose."

Unfortunately, we live in a world that’s quick to take offense. Ignorant (but innocent) comments and genuine questions are often labeled as offensive and aggressive. Sometimes it feels as if people are looking for ways to be offended and enjoy getting into disagreements, especially on social media. It’s important that we raise our children to understand that everyone isn’t trying to attack them. Instead, we should teach them that they will be happier individuals if they learn to give people the benefit of the doubt and choose to look for the good instead of the bad.

The No Offense Meant Mindset* teaches our children that instead of jumping to a negative conclusion about the offender, to try and give them the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone has the opportunity of being exposed to different cultures, especially kids, and oftentimes offensive comments/actions from children are just misplaced curiosity or ignorance.

The No Offense Meant Mindset’s foundation is to change the focus of a potentially negative situation with peers into a positive one through your child’s ability to share their culture, set boundaries, talk about it, and make a new friend. Instead of automatically seeing the negative, you teach your children to see opportunities.

It’s not offensive, it’s an opportunity to share my culture:

There is a difference between a hate crime and a curious comment. Remember my definition of “offensive”? One of the main factors is the intention of the action. Most people won’t ask your children, “What are you?” with the intent to laugh at their response. They ask because they genuinely want to learn more about your kids.

Your child could be the only exposure others have to your culture, so it is a great opportunity for them to represent it the best that they can.

Many questions that could be considered culturally insensitive whether it’s about food preference, religious beliefs, cosmetic routines, or traditional practices are being asked because there is genuine curiosity. And instead of thinking of it as an offensive stereotypical or racist comment, you should teach your children to see it as an opportunity to share the truth about their cultures.

If people outside of our cultures don’t feel comfortable learning about our cultures from those that live them, who will they learn from? They might turn to the media’s interpretation of our cultures, or worse, go search on the internet which could only add to the misrepresentation.

So, teach your children to give the benefit of the doubt and see potential culturally insensitive situations as opportunities to share their cultures so others can have positive and personal interactions with them. Your child could be the only exposure others have to your culture, so it is a great opportunity for them to represent it the best that they can.

It’s not offensive, it’s an opportunity to set boundaries:

When it comes to interacting with peers, kids are learning (and often testing) boundaries. The same practices that we teach our kids regarding personal boundaries can be applied to behaviors that could be considered culturally insensitive.

Tactile processing is a common way that we as humans understand new information. But while this gives a logical explanation for why a person’s first response to something new is to reach out and touch it, no one should touch your child without their consent. They should not touch your child’s hair. They should not touch your child’s traditional clothing. They should not touch your child’s religious jewelry. Teaching your child to respond with a, “Please don’t touch me,” should be enough to remind everyone in that situation that unwanted touching isn’t acceptable in any culture.

Comments or jokes that push the boundaries are commonly heard by cultural minorities. They are often based on stereotypes and cultural misrepresentations. It’s uncomfortable when you’re the only one not laughing at a joke, but it’s important for your children to see this as an opportunity to simply say, “That’s not funny,” and walk away.

These simple statements from your child will help them set boundaries for others and serve as a reminder that respect isn’t an option when it comes to cultures.

It’s not offensive, it’s an opportunity to talk about it:

It’s too common to see or read situations where a well-meaning but poorly phrased question or comment gets absolutely destroyed. Take the example of the question, “What are you?” Could the question have been phrased another way? Yes. Was the intention to degrade or mock? Probably not.

When our children choose to take offense, they tend to get defensive. They hyperfocus on the thing that offended them to the point that communication shuts off and they can become argumentative or even aggressive. Not only is that specific conversation immediately ended, but any future conversations with that individual are immediately ended. Why would anyone want to talk to someone who yelled at them over a simple question?

Talking through conflicts rather than letting emotions drive their actions will help your children develop the self-control needed to create a habit of responding instead of reacting.

By choosing a No Offense Meant Mindset, your children can learn to encourage a conversation instead of ending it. Conversation is one of the best ways to get to know someone and allow them to get to know you. It’s also a great skill for children to practice while young. Talking through conflicts rather than letting emotions drive their actions will help your children develop the self-control needed to create a habit of responding instead of reacting.

It’s not offensive, it’s an opportunity to make a new friend:

In the article “What Happens When You Give People the Benefit of the Doubt” in Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine, they said, “...researchers found that people who gave others the benefit of the doubt…were happier [while]...individuals with a ‘hostile’ attributional style––that is, who tend to assign malicious intent to others’ actions––tend to be less satisfied with their relationships.”

Applying this statement to your children, would they rather be friends with someone who is happy or someone who always feels attacked by everything they say and do? By teaching your child the No Offense Meant Mindset, you are helping them be happier in both their relationships and their life in general.

Two multiracial kids laugh together while sitting on a couch with a blanket.

When I was in high school, the culture surrounding my religion as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints made me a frequent target of offensive jokes and comments (once from a teacher). They weren’t said with the intent of being mean to me, rather, they were used as low-hanging fruit in an attempt to be funny in front of the class.

Looking back, I could have complained to the principal, I could have dropped the class, I could have let my emotions run high and either withdrawn into myself or lashed out. But in the moment, those options never crossed my mind, and I would either roll my eyes (the jokes really were eye-roll worthy) or throw back a quick response with a smile.

I chose not to be offended, and my peers who seemed to be testing the waters, let the jokes die. We got to know each other better, something that wouldn’t have been possible if I had chosen to be offended. It is really hard to allow yourself to be emotionally close to someone that has offended you. It’s almost as if the memory of the offense blocks out any potential for a different type of relationship.

I am so glad that I chose not to be offended because I eventually became really good friends with some of those joke-makers. Some of them came to religious events and learned more about the religious culture I live and some I still keep in contact with now, over 10 years after we graduated high school and went our separate ways. I wasn’t actively practicing the No Offense Meant Mindset, but I'm seeing the benefits of the principle even now as an adult.

A bonus is that if your children develop the No Offense Meant Mindset, not only will they find opportunities to share their cultures with others, but they'll feel more comfortable around those with different backgrounds than themselves. This allows them to naturally diversify their friend group since they won't feel the need to exclusively be around those that are just like them.

Teaching your children The No Offense Meant Mindset will help them grow into happy and confident multicultural kids. The abilities to share their culture, set boundaries, talk about it, and make a new friend are skills that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

*The No Offense Meant Mindset does not advocate for bullies or tolerate racism. As parents, we have the responsibility to be safe spaces for our children. We should frequently and lovingly remind them that they are able to come to us whenever they feel sad, unsafe, or upset by something someone said or did. If your child tells you of a situation that was clearly said or done with the intent to offend or harm, then it’s our responsibility as parents to address the issue with/on behalf of our children.

Need some ideas?

We asked you "How Would You React to These Culturally Offensive Situations?"

  1. Someone asks, “What are you?”

  2. Someone reaches out to touch your cultural attire

  3. Someone tells you a culturally insensitive joke/comment

Here are a few responses we received on Instagram:

~ "I always cringe at the jokes, and make sure to explain to my kids why they are not funny or appropriate.”

~ "I'd take it as an opportunity to educate others.”

~ "It’s important to help our kids process these feelings and situations as well. By dealing with it at a young age, it will help bolster their own confidence in their identity.”

- Anita of @bhashakids

~ "Recently someone asked, ‘What are your kids mixed with?’ I had to stop myself from giving a rude answer. I noticed that the young woman was asking so excitedly. I held myself back from saying too much and instead gave her the answer she wanted. For me, my answer will totally depend on who is asking and what their motivation is. Adults should know better than to ask rude questions, but young people are still learning. It can be difficult for kids to feel confident in their identity and sometimes they get excited to see someone who looks like them. I suspect that was the case for us. The young woman was excited to see kids who looked like her, and she just had to ask.”


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