How They Do It: An Overview of Child Rearing around the World
The Workshop on Child Rearing Practices and Beliefs in Sub-Saharan Africa, held in Windhoek, Namibia in October 1993, points out the similarity of practices within traditional societies studied in Mali, Nigeria, Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi.
In those countries, not only are children highly valued, but being childless is considered the worst fate that can befall a man and a woman. The entire community considers it their responsibility to see that each child, a “gift of God,” is raised appropriately. Elders transmit their cultural values and teach the young, and discipline centers around the values that children are expected to learn.
In Malawi, the workshop report quotes the saying, “M’mera ndipoyamba,” meaning that the child is like a plant that must be nurtured while young so it will grow strong and productive. Most of the cultures studied set goals around the development of their children’s appropriate social skills and humanistic values.
“In Nigeria, there is a clear expectation that the child should be ‘good.’” In other words, one who follows cultural tradition and cares for the parents. Nigerian parents disown a child who does not conform to cultural norms.
While recognizing that generalizations about Native American Indians can seldom be made because tribes are different, it appears that children occupied a special place in Native American culture. They were taught to respect life, and were viewed with love and caring (Gridley, 1974; Terrell and Terrell, 1974).
In her article, Guidance of American Indian Children, Dr. Harriett K. Light, Professor of Child Development and Family Relations at North Dakota State University gives the results of a study conducted on 32 American Indian teachers who attended a Head Start training session in North Dakota. The teachers were asked to state childhood behaviors they found most bothersome and methods of discipline used. “The behavior that bothered most teachers was disrespect towards older people … physical aggression … swearing, rudeness, disobedient behavior, behavior that was dependent and clinging, jealousy, silly, and attention-getting.”
Ninety-one percent of the respondents to the study said they never used spanking to discipline a child, the remaining nine responded that they spanked sometimes. Talking about bothersome behavior and explaining what should or should not be done was the method most frequently used to discipline the children.
According to Dr. Ritts, in the Navajo Indian culture collective behavior is encouraged, but individualistic behavior is respected without punishment. “The belief in the inviolability of the individual plays a large role in the parents’ attitude toward discipline,” she says. “Discipline is typically conducted by persuasion, ridicule, or shame. Corporal punishment is basically nonexistent. An adult or older child tends to divert the young child rather than use punishment.”
The term Latino refers to people from many different countries who are united by a common language—Spanish. While there are many differences from one country to another, certain attitudes and family features are common to Latino families. “Familalism is one of the most prominent cultural values,” says Dr. Ritts. “Families emphasize sharing and cooperation rather than competition. Extended family support is the norm.” She adds that children in those cultures are expected to be calm, obedient, courteous, and respectful of adults. “In Latino families discipline is often strict. It was originally thought that Latino parents were more authoritarian than American parents. Today the belief is that Latino parents exhibit a broad range of parenting styles comparable to American parents.”
Although the use of time-outs, a term that originates with sports, is a typically American and Canadian form of disciplining children, European cultures appear to be on the same page in terms of implementing other forms of discipline. Distraction tactics work for very young children, while rewards and withdrawal of privileges are effective for older kids, as are democratic parenting styles that involve kids in family rule-making, all of which appear to be fairly universal among American and European parents.
Changing European times have ousted old sayings, such as “The nail that stands up gets hammered down,” and “Children should be seen and not heard,” even as several Western European countries followed Sweden’s lead by outlawing spanking and implementing legislation that prohibits corporal punishment.
The range of child-rearing philosophies and discipline styles around the world is perhaps as wide and numerous as there are parents to implement them. Learning about other cultures provides parents with opportunities to discover alternative discipline-effective methods that foster motivation, creativity, and emotional health in our children.
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