Childhood Development in a Cultural Context – Childhood Development Research Paper

Childhood Development in a Cultural Context – Childhood Development Research Paper
Childhood development and it’s implications to entire continents, nations, or more specifically, societies and cultures has gone through much research and development in the past decades. To illustrate, the research and development of childhood theories today involves theorists such as Jean Piaget (1920, e.g. child intellectual development) and Freud (1933, e.g. components of personality) to more recent

theorists such as Lev Vygotsky (1934/1962, e.g. stages of cognitive development) and Urie Bronfenbrenner (1995, contextual development) (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). Specifically, the following paragraphs will focus and illustrate on how children develop during infancy and early childhood according to the social relationships and cultural context(s) of the child as an individual or group member.

According to (Sigelman & Rider, 2003), development is defined as the changes and adjustments that individuals experience from the time of conception till death. They established that age grades, age norms and the social clock influence the development of individuals (children) socially. To illustrate, age grades are socially classified age groups which include pre-assigned statuses, roles, privileges, and responsibilities. Next, age norms refers to the society’s permitted and prohibited behaviours individuals’ should and should not do according to one’s age. Last, social clock refers to a sense of what and when things have to be done according to one’s age norms (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). As society evolves parallel to as time progresses, the context in time becomes very important to understand the social environment. In addition, Valsiner (1988) denotes that social development functions hand-in-hand with the cultural environment. Thus, as we understand the developmental process of the infancy and early childhood stage we must consider two factors such as the social environment and the cultural context of the child as an individual as we answer the developmental questions to attachment formation.

According to Drewery and Bird (2004), attachment refers to an affectional bond between two people; and the field of attachment has inspired many theories and theorists in the research of attachment. Sigmund Freud for example, believed that a stable mother-child relationship (attachment) is very important to development (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). Interestingly, many theorists (e.g. Freud, Erickson, and Bowlby) unanimously agree that the very first social relationship (attachment) of an individual is the most important relationship of all (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). Infancy refers to children between the age range of 0 years to 2 years of life whereas early childhood refers to children between the age range of 2 to 6 years of life (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). John Bowlby’s research on parent-child and other close relationships was the founding catalyst to “attachment” as commonly used in the field of psychology today. His research initially focused on children that were displaced during and after wars from which he hypothesised based on the work of another psychologist, Renee Spitz, that children who were separated from their mothers developed significantly slower and inferior to their peers. This condition of separation between mother and child was defined as “Maternal deprivation” (Drewery & Bird, 2004).

Bowlby (1969) denoted that there are four principle theories that explain the nature of the “attachment theory” he noted. These theories are such as, to begin, the Theory of Secondary Drive states that every child has several physiological needs that drives the child to become attached to his/her mother due to the capability of the mother to care and supply to those needs. Second, he proposed the Theory of Primary Object Sucking where the infant inherently has a predisposition towards the human breast which soon after develops into an attached child-breast or child-mother relationship. Third, the Theory of Primary Object Clinging denotes that infants inherently have a predisposition to clutch or touch another human being (assumed as the source of need such as food and warmth). Fourth, the Theory of Primary Return-to-Womb Craving denotes that infants seek to return to the womb despising their environmental state. Based on the theories above, Bowlby developed the study of ethology, the study of “innate relationships between biology and behaviour” (Drewery & Bird, 2004). To illustrate the theories above, Bowlby emphasised the biological aspects of attachment however, his conclusions were also parallel with social bases. Every theory stated above is seen as a basis where development and experience takes precedence over biological factors for example, an infant develops an attachment for his mother after seeing his/her mother as fulfilling his/her needs. The key point here is the process of learning (social) to depend (attachment behaviour) on the mother. In conclusion, according to Sigelman and Rider (2003) attachment theory according to Bowlby is encapsulated under two points relevant to this essay. First, the formation of attachment develops through the interaction between biological and environmental factors (social) during the infant and early childhood stages. Second, caregiver-child attachment relationships effect the later development and quality of relationships of the child. Thus, this signifies both a social influence (relationships) and a cultural influence (relationships practice).

The following will explore the conclusions and findings from other theorists of attachment and how it relates to infant and early childhood development. First, Piaget (1932/1965) in Sigelman and Rider (2003) noted that there are two factors that contribute childhood development such as the caregiver-child relationship and the peer relationships the child has. He notes that even to the young age of infancy do attachments with peers influence the social development of the child. However, according to research findings by Mussen (1973), infants aged 2 years and below develop more when interacting with a single peer rather than a group of peers. To illustrate, Piaget’s conclusions suggest that the peer relationships or social environment of the child significantly influences the development of the child; development that cannot happen within a caregiver-child relationship. In addition, this peer relationship (equal status attachments) is considered to have a unique contribution to development as compared to caregiver-child relationships (parents are superior to child, unequal status attachments).Next, Lev Vygotsky was another theorist that explored the caregiver-child relationships of the child (Drewery & Bird, 2004). His observations focused on the cultural environment of the child and believed that development occurs within the interaction between the people surrounding the child and the child individually. This concept of merging both social and cultural factors is called a “Sociocultural perspective” (Sigelman & Rider, 2003). Vygotsky defines this as co-construction, a process where children learn with the aid of adults. How his theory relates to attachment and development is seen in the works of Van der Veer and Van Ijzendoorn (1988). They denoted that children in the infancy and early childhood stage participate in certain activities [e.g. play and learning activities (Sigelman & Rider, 2003)] together with their caregivers or adults in general (teachers, relatives). Thus, within these activities the creation of Vygotsky’s concept of the “zone of proximal development” (Drewery & Bird, 2004) functions to distinguish the role of the adult as the person of higher mental capability as compared to the child, creating a range or distance ( between adult and child) in which the child can learn. In addition, this concept is based on the assumption that higher mental functions (cognitive skills) are learnt through social interaction of supervision and assistance (Drewery & Bird, 2004). Concurrently, these activities is characterised according to the culture of the child’s environment because activities differ according to culture. Van der Veer and Van Ijzendoorn (1988, p. 221) thus concluded that parent-child attachments are crucial for current and future cognitive development.

Urie Bronfenbrenner on the other hand proposes a different view to adult-child learning relationship. According to Sigelman and Rider (2003), his bioecological approach (formally ecological approach) denotes that development occurs within a reciprocal system or in simple terms, a give-and-take relationship between the individual (child) and his/her environment. It is an approach which is dynamic and adaptive. Within the bioecological approach, Bronfenbrenner illustrates four environments system that influences or is influenced by the developing child. These systems are such as the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. To illustrate, we can use the systems to conceptualise a child and his/her environment to how he/she develops. Firstly, the microsystem refers to the immediate environment of the child such as the child’s family however the mesosystem refers to interrelationships between two or more microsystems such as the interaction between the child’s family and the child’s day care centre. Thirdly, the exosystem refers to the social settings beyond the immediate environment that indirectly influences the child’s development (e.g. mass media) and lastly, the macrosystem referes to the larger cultural context of the child’s environment (e.g. political system) To illustrate, when a child interacts with his/her mother and father, the infant or child contributes actively to the reciprocal relationship (microsystem). However, when a family conflict arises between parents, it can cause the child to behave differently in school (mesosystem, interaction between family and school). Also, the exosystem is seen in through the media such as the television at the child’s home where the macrosystem of political and historical occurrences can be seen to influence the media, family and school. Through bronfenbrenner’s approach, one can understand child development through social and cultural means as its emphasis is on reciprocal influences/relationships.

When defining culture, one must understand the different context of which culture is defined. As culture refers to a specialised lifestyle of values, beliefs, behaviours, and communicating (Devito, 2003), different cultures within different context (e.g. countries or situations such as poverty) would apply these specialised behaviours differently. Thus, development based on culture would differ according to the context of development/culture. Stratton (1988) concluded that childhood development when understood according to culture must include the parents’ cultural beliefs, the child cultural environment and the child’s cultural beliefs (developed according to experience). In a study by McDermontt, Char, Robillard, Hsu, Tseng, and Ashton (1983, cited in Stratton, 1988) which studied the differences between families of Japanese and Caucasian origin families, they found that there was a significant difference in the cultural attitudes of the two types of families towards their children thus resulting in two different development outcomes for the children. The Japanese families, being of the collective orientation, resulted in children who were more developed cognitively in ways of deep thinking and feeling. However, for the Caucasian families, being of the individualistic orientation, resulted in children who were more expressive. These findings were duplicated across different cultures in two other studies of cross cultural effects on development. Barker, Kounin and Wright (1943) studied the development of children in the Indian pueblo culture as compared to the Hopi culture. They concluded that children who from both cultures differed in attitudes and overt behaviour. In addition, Aimin and Guiying (2004) in their comparative study of Chinese and American Children in how they rated their self concept showed a clear difference between cultures. The Chinese children viewed themselves much positively as compared to the American children. These studies clearly present culture as a vital factor that influences childhood development.

In conclusion, the two factors of the social environment and the cultural context of a child as an individual very much influences the development of the child psychologically and emotionally during infancy and early childhood. Attachment as defined as between two people is seen to be a crucial part of a child’s social and cultural environment and must be integrated into one’s socialcultural system whenever one desires to understand a child.

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