3 The influence of culture on children’s learning and experiences
‘Child-rearing practices and beliefs reflect local conceptions of how the world is and how the child should be readied for living in it.’
This quote from the renowned psychologist Jerome Bruner is helpful for thinking about the connection between culture and childhood, as it highlights that child-rearing is not the same everywhere. What children experience in their families, the learning that they participate in, will be shaped by the conditions, traditions and beliefs of their community or their world. Alma Gottlieb (2004), an anthropologist who undertook research in the Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, in the late 1970s, suggested that the way babies and infants are carried, soothed, bathed and fed varies according to cultural context. In the Côte d’Ivoire community, she found that both adults and other children looked after and comforted children. Siblings, friends and cousins played peek-a-boo, chatted and teased younger children as well as teaching them life skills. Babies seemed in tune with the natural rhythms and routines of mothers going about their daily lives, with their mothers them to sleep at the same time as working. Gottlieb also reflected that the notions of effective child-rearing as expressed in parenting manuals in the western world were not ‘truths’ applicable to all family cultures.