Cultural Influences on Development of Infants and Toddlers
Toddlers are busy making the transition from babyhood to child. According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett in "Human Development: A Cultural Approach," between birth and age 2, toddler brains exhibit a dramatic increase in synaptic density. They sleep less and move about more, making increased parental supervision essential. Toddlers begin to have control over elimination, making toilet training possible. Parental interaction is influenced by the parents' culture, education and current social setting. Training, personal background and social expectations influence parents.
Toddlerhood begins as infants near the 1 year mark. Babies at this age are usually very busy learning to walk, talk and interact with people around them. Arnett explains that while healthy toddlers develop similarly, the particulars of how they develop can be influenced culturally. He points out that when these little ones are learning to walk, they have little or no judgement of what is safe. Cultures where there are open fires or large bodies of water might have to restrict their movement, just as a parent in a more modern setting might baby-proof the living room.
Feeding and Weaning
All babies require nutrition, but there are a variety of social expectations for how the baby should be fed. Biology might suggest that the best food for a baby is mother's milk. However, traditions for introducing solid food and social expectations differ from culture to culture. Babies who are breastfed for the first 6 months of life tend to develop uniformly, but in many cultures, as solid food is introduced they do not receive enough protein for healthy development. Babies who are lacking micro-nutrients, such as iron, can become fussy or be more prone to illnesses.
Toilet training is another area where customs differ greatly. An article from MedicineNet.com states that in the 1920s, and article from Parent Magazine encouraged toilet training infants as young as 8 weeks of age. However, by the 1940s, Dr. Benjamin Spock was encouraging a more gradual, natural method of toilet training. In cultures where children wear little clothing, according to Arnett, they are encouraged to relieve themselves in a designated area away from the house. Sometimes they are taught by adults, but often they learn by imitating other children. In more modern settings, children are often introduced to the idea through cute books or even videos. Arnett adds that when parents wait until the child is ready, toilet training takes less time.
Holding and Carrying
Even in modern cultures where childcare practices are fairly standard, whether or not to leave a toddler to "cry it out" or to pick him up and hold him varies according to personal background. "Understanding the Influence of Culture on Caregiving Practices," from Beyond the Journal, the online publication for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, points out the differences between two caregivers in a childcare setting. One believes that comforting toddlers and talking with them about their hurts helps them to feel more secure. The other worker makes remarks about how this practice is "spoiling" the children. The article goes on to point out that when you know yourself and your culture, you can use the information to become a better parent or caregiver.
- Michigan Department of Community Health: Social-Emotional Development in Young Children
- Natural Child Project: Emotional Learning in Infants: A Cross-Cultural Examination
- Academia: Promoting an Anthropology of Infants
- Parenting Science: Night wakings: A guide for the science-minded parent
- Childhood: Anthropological Aspects
- Journal of Perinatal Education: A History of Infant Feeding