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I spent a year living in Tokyo when I was 18.  As I prepared to go overseas, I was taught a little bit about Japanese culture.  One thing I was surprised to learn is that the Japanese consider it very rude to tell someone “no.”  For Americans, this can be disconcerting—we tend to value directness and saying what one thinks.  When Japanese people say “we’ll think about it,” Americans might think they’re being evasive or wishy-washy, when really, they’re just being polite.

This is a good example of how cultural differences can cause misunderstandings—and that learning more about other cultures can give you a new perspective.  You can understand that a Japanese person who says, “I’ll consider that idea” likely means “no,” and you’ll understand that they’re being polite rather than misleading.

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International Youth Day was launched August 12, 1999 with a goal to improve the living situations for young people around the world. Areas of focus include hunger, poverty, environment, education, drug abuse and gender equality. This year’s theme is “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding,” and reflects the value of exchanging ideas with people from cultures outside of one’s own.

I asked my 9-year-old son whether International Youth Day carried any special meaning for him but he seemed a bit perplexed, wanting to know more about this celebration. “Why do we have to set aside just one day for kids from around the world?” he wanted to know. I gave him my grown-up speech including phrases like “symbolism, world is getting smaller, division among countries, youth today will run the world tomorrow, etc.”

But my son was not impressed. “My teacher sets aside time every day to talk about how kids around the world live different lives than we do,” he said, “but that we are all more similar than we are different.” He went on to explain that his Somali classmate Adi had shared the ways in which life as an immigrant was sometimes difficult, and that he really just wanted to be like the other boys. This open dialogue resulted in an invitation for Adi to join a group of boys for their daily football game during recess. He is now a valued team member.

This conversation with my son left me happy with the knowledge that kids growing up today are learning more about the world out there than we did at their age. In some ways, they are living International Youth Day 365 days per year.

Did you know that August is National Inventors Month? There’s no better time to encourage your children’s creative sides and give them opportunity to invent something of their own.

Try cultivating curiosity in these ways:

Get the toys out: Toys and puzzles that require manual manipulation activate the brain’s problem-solving mechanisms spark logic and reasoning. The more you challenge your child with toys that get them really using this aspect of their brain, the more likely you will see an increase in their overall creativity. MindWare has a good selection of hands-on puzzles, like classic Rubik’s Cube or the intricate 4-D Animal Puzzles.

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“Isn’t it cool how everybody is different?”  I’ll ask my kids from time to time.  “It’d be so boring if we were all the same.”

I hope that from an early age my children will appreciate other people’s differences and see them as something interesting, not something bad.  My family lives in a diverse metro area, and my kids regularly see people of different ethnic backgrounds, hear people speaking different languages, and see people with physical and intellectual disabilities.  I try to mindfully encourage my kids to be accepting of differences and appreciate them.

This week is “International Special Olympics Week.”  At my daughter’s gymnastics facility, there are pictures on the wall of a Special Olympics team.  She asked about it once, and I explained that the kids in the picture were athletes.  They may have been born with intellectual disabilities, but they’re gymnasts, too.

Here are some ideas of ways to foster acceptance in your family.

A loud crack of thunder and bright flash of lightning can make any of us jump. For many children, stormy nights can mean scary nights at home. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are several ways to help your child not be afraid of storms. Staying calm is key. If your children see that you’re not bothered by the rain and thunder, chances are they’ll stay calm too.  Avoid the panic of having to rush to the basement or to an interior room of the house by moving early to a safe spot, before the weather gets really severe.

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An Educational Road Trip

With the advent of portable DVD players that pop down from the vehicle’s ceiling, hang on the back of headrests or sit in your lap, it’s a wonder that anyone ever spends travel time admiring the scenery instead of staring at a little screen.  But even the most patient parents enjoy having some peace and quiet during long car rides—thanks to the distraction provided by those very same DVDs.

But everything your kids watch doesn’t have to be mindless diversion.  Why not proclaim your next car trip a purely educational one?  Limit DVD use to informative fare, like documentaries on scientific explorations or historical events.  Many kids also enjoy watching how-to videos on topics like cooking instruction, interior design and foreign language lessons.

You can also put the focus on education by proclaiming even a few hours “screen free” without movies or computer games of any kind.  Instead, bring some educational games along in the car or even read a book out loud to your troops as you watch the miles go by.

Happy Travels!