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Cultural Differences in the Development of Children

by Elizabeth Nuttall

How a child develops and what affects his development is a fascinating subject for both parents and professionals. If parents understand how their child develops, have appropriate expectations at each stage and know the different factors that may influence a child's development, it can guide parents in supporting their child's development and help them to identify any problems. One factor that may impact child development is cultural experience.

Vygotsky's Theory of Social Development

Unlike Piaget who believed that a child's development occurred in stages regardless of their experiences, Lev Vygotsky's theory suggests that cultural and social experiences have a significant impact on the learning and development of a child. According to Saul McLeod, a British psychology lecturer writing for the website Simply Psychology, Vygotsky claims that social learning must precede development and that an individual's higher mental functions originate from cultural and social processes. Vygotsky believed that cognitive, language and social skill development varied greatly according to different cultural experiences and developmental expectations.

Language Development

Writing for Education.com, Beverley Otto highlights the differences in language development between cultures. The first difference is the way that people use language in diverse cultures. For example, some countries have individual words to describe a concept while other cultures have a phrase to describe the same thing or several different words to denote the same concept dependent upon the context of the words. The second difference Otto identifies is the way parents instruct children. In some cultures, such as the American culture, parents give verbal instructions and in other countries, parents give non-verbal instructions.

Developmental Expectations

While researching cultural influences on early childhood development, Beth Maschinot found several cultural differences that impacted a child's behavior and the way that they interacted in different social settings. One specific area of her research focuses on the differences between individualistic and interdependent cultures. In individualistic cultures, such as European and American cultures, parents raise their children to be independent as soon as possible. In contrast, interdependent cultures, such as Asian cultures, focused on societal expectations. The different expectations of a child's development in different cultures results in different behavior, values and attitudes in the children.

Cognitive Development

Maschinot also notes that although children develop following the same sequence, cultural comparisons show that cognitive development may happen at different rates in different cultures with children reaching different milestones at different stages. A report by researcher Linda B. Smith also supports claims that culture affects cognitive development. Her research compares the cognitive development of Japanese and American children. The experiments tested their abilities in relational-focused versus object-focused tasks. Smith found a marked difference between the two cultures for all four experiments undertaken.

About the Author

After a 12-year career in education, Elizabeth Nuttall became a professional writer in 2010. Her areas of expertise include parenting, education, celebrations, entertainment, health and the social sciences.

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