Nurturing Identity: The Significance of Heritage and Roots in a Child’s Life

This past Sunday we celebrated Heritage Day in South Africa, though for us Capetonians our day was poured out due to the storm so not much braaing done on this side of the country. Heritage Day on the 24th September holds particular importance in South Africa’s post-apartheid as it’s aims to promote unity, cultural diversity, and inclusivity within the nation.

I was reminded of this as we are doing diversity training in more affluent local schools in the city about why the importance of heritage and understanding your roots is vital particularly for children of colour in not only understanding themselves but feeling confident in who they are.

As Arise we have spent the last 14 years speaking on the importance of identity in adoption, however this is so true for every child. Every child to know where they come from, to feel proud of their background and to know and understand others as well. Because when we know who we are and feel good about ourselves then we are then open to learning about others and accepting them for who they are.

Identity is a complex interplay of factors that shape who we are as individuals. Among these factors, our heritage and roots play a pivotal role in grounding us and helping us understand our place in the world. For children who are not being raised by their biological families, the need to connect with their heritage becomes even more significant. In this blog, we will explore why heritage and roots are essential for a child’s identity, particularly for those growing up in non-biological family settings. We will also provide practical tips for caregivers and children to foster this vital connection.

The Significance of Heritage and Roots

Understanding one’s heritage provides a deep sense of belonging. It helps children feel connected to a larger community, whether that’s a cultural, ethnic, or familial group. This belongingness contributes to a stable sense of identity, which is crucial for self-esteem and self-worth. As many of you who have attended our conferences or workshops over the years, you will know that we emphasise the importance of positive self-identity (and in transracial families, we want the child who is of a different race to have positive racial identity) and so this takes conscious thought and deliberate action. We need to be intentional of the spaces we create for our children and ensure that they see themselves in those spaces.

Heritage forms a substantial part of a person’s cultural identity. It provides a framework for understanding cultural practices, values, and traditions. Embracing one’s heritage can help a child feel more connected to their cultural community.

Knowing where one comes from helps in forming a more resilient sense of self. It provides a reference point when faced with questions about identity, helping children navigate these challenges more confidently.

Understanding one’s roots enables a child to appreciate the struggles and triumphs of their ancestors. This knowledge can inspire and motivate them as they grow, fostering a sense of pride in their heritage. I know this is true for me, knowing what my family had to endure during apartheid made me understand some of their childhood traumas and how this has affected their relationships and interpersonal skills. This then

Practical Tips for Encouraging Connection to Heritage

So how do we encourage connection to our children’s heritage and roots. Encourage storytelling within the family. Share anecdotes, tales of ancestors, and family history. This helps children understand their roots and the experiences of those who came before them.

Embrace cultural holidays, festivals, and traditions. Participating in cultural events and rituals can be a powerful way for children to connect with their heritage. Be curious together. Don’t just let your child do all the work but do it together connect over learning and celebrate the differences within your families too.

If applicable, encourage the child to learn the language associated with their heritage, but do this together if you do not know the language either. When you only let your child learn the language this can ostracize the child making the child feel left out. Language is a significant part of cultural identity and can open doors to deeper connections.

Food is often a gateway to heritage. Cook traditional dishes together and explain their significance. This can be a fun and delicious way to explore one’s roots. If you have adopted or fostered children ask them do you think their first family likes the food, bring back to their stories and have a fun open way of talking about the fullness of who they are which includes their first starting points in their lives. If you have older children in your care who might remember some of their family food, ask them and try and make it together- it’s a great way of honouring those memories too.

If possible, visit historical or cultural sites related to the child’s heritage. This hands-on experience can make history come alive and create lasting memories. In South Africa we are blessed to have so many of these sites- understanding our history. The Slave Museum, Robben Island, Voortrekker Monument, and the District Six Museum in Cape Town are just a few.

Explore literature, books, and films that reflect the child’s heritage. This can be an engaging way to learn about history, customs, and values. Arise has a whole collection of books and resources. Go look at our resource list to get started. As the adults in children’s lives, it is important to create an environment where the child feels comfortable asking questions about their heritage. Be open and patient when discussing topics related to identity.

Help the child create a heritage scrapbook or digital archive. This can include family trees, photographs, and mementos that celebrate their cultural background. Don’t know where to start I would highgly recommend you in doing our Life Story Course online, you can do this at your own time and space as well as practical skills and tools to get started.

Most importantly, be supportive if and when the child expresses interest in exploring different aspects of their identity. Encourage them to learn about and embrace their heritage at their own pace.

Heritage and roots are the foundation upon which a child’s identity is built. For children who are not being raised by their biological families, connecting with their heritage becomes even more critical. By nurturing this connection through storytelling, cultural celebrations, language, and community involvement, caregivers can empower children to embrace their heritage and form a strong and resilient sense of self. In doing so, we can help these children navigate the complex journey of identity formation with confidence and pride.

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Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director)