Childrens Behavior Nurturance Dependency Prosocial Acts and Aggression

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In this final section, we discuss four categories of child behavior (nurturance, dependency, prosocial acts, and aggression) that appear at an early age and are important outcomes of the kinds of socialization processes we have described. Children's behavior seems to have certain similar characteristics across cultures because of their universal developmentally-based needs and desires. However, there are also important differences tied to cultural experiences. All four categories of behavior are particularly reciprocal in the child's dyadic interaction with their companions, and they are subjected to a cultural channeling that specifies under what circumstances and to whom the child can display them.

Nurturance can be defined as offering help and support to an individual who is in a state of need. Although there are variations in the styles and situations in which it is expected to express nurturance, it is a recognizable universal across culture. With age, children are more capable of perceiving, understanding, and meeting others' needs and wants, and then responding to them. For example, they learn how to offer food to distract a crying toddler or how to encourage a friend with a smile.

In almost all societies, infants and toddlers receive higher proportions of nurturance than do older children because of their relative helplessness and vulnerability as well as their cute and endearing physical characteristics (Braten, 1996; Edwards, 1986, 1993; Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Infant crying seems to elicit nurturance behavior from even very young children (Zahn-Waxler, Friedman, & Cummings, 1983). When infants grow older and become more mobile, independent, and demanding, they still need to be watched, protected, and instructed. However, toddlers are in many ways harder to care for than infants. They are still small and defenseless, but they seem to elicit many prosocially dominant behaviors from others (for instance, commands to desist from dangerous and annoying behaviors, and suggestions about how to eat their food properly) rather than the pure nurturance behavior that they formerly received (Whiting, 1983; Whiting & Edwards, 1988).

Both older boys and girls tend to be highly nurturing toward babies. However, girls are more nurturing than boys to toddlers, other children, and adults (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). In most societies, girls are assigned as caretakers of babies and have more opportunity to practice nurturance than do boys. Girls are more frequently in the company of their mothers and more eager to imitate the maternal role. In their play, girls are more likely to act out scenes from familiar settings, such as the home and school where they can rehearse and create domestic roles involving nurturing interpersonal relationships and nurturance (Edwards, Knoche, & Kumru, 2001). Thus, girls seem to have more opportunities in everyday life to practice nurturance than do boys.

Dependency behavior can be described as seeking help, attention, permission, information, emotional support, or material resources. Because of the helplessness of the human infant, dependency behavior is strong at the beginning of life and is elicited and rewarded by caretak-ing adults at least some of the time. One would expect that the dependency would then decrease as the child becomes more mature and competent. However, research has documented no clear-cut changes in age in overall levels of dependency behavior during childhood. Maccoby and Masters (1970) discussed these findings with reference to the different types of dependent behaviors. They noted that clinging and proximity-seeking behavior decrease with age, while help- and attention-seeking behavior remain high. Similarly, Whiting and Edwards (1988) suggest that a child's dependency tendencies toward mother does not so much decrease as change in style from early to middle childhood. Children's preferred style tends to shift from more physical and intimate modes toward ones like help, attention, information, and permission-seeking that rely on verbal skills and help them act in accord with cultural values. Thus, children's dependency changes in format with age, becoming less intimate and proximal, but it does not disappear.

Findings on gender differences in child's dependency are decidedly mixed. Luo boys from Kenya were observed to exhibit significantly more dependency behavior than were the girls (Ember, 1973). However, many studies from Western and non-Western societies have shown little or no sex differences in overall dependency behavior (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Whiting & Edwards, 1973). Ember (1981) suggested that girls and boys might exhibit different types of dependency behavior. For instance, in the Six Cultures data, girls tended to seek help and physical contact more than boys in the 3-6-year-old age range, but boys seemed to seek attention and material goods more than girls once they were about 7 years old (Edwards & Whiting, 1974).

Prosocial behavior can be described as voluntary acts intending to meet the needs of others. Prosocial behavior tends to increase with age because of developmental changes in children's cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical competence (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). In most societies, children are expected to carry more responsibility at home as they become mature and to display more prosocial acts. Studies with Western and non-Western samples show that older children displayed higher proportions of prosocial behaviors compared with their younger peers (Eisenberg, 1992; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Whiting & Edwards, 1973, 1988; de Guzman, Edwards, & Carlo, 2002).

Socialization pressures and learning might play an important role in children's prosocial tendencies. From toddlerhood on, children experience socialization pressure to learn the rudiments of prosocial behavior (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). In cultures where children have more opportunities to interact with infants, they seem to acquire capacities for prosocial behavior naturally and smoothly. Likewise, where they grow up in the company of elders who need their assistance, they learn prosocial values about respect and care of the very old.

Literature about gender differences in prosocial behavior has produced mixed conclusions. For example, studies conducted in contemporary Western societies suggest that girls seem to perform more prosocial behavior than boys, at least during late childhood and adolescence (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). Barry, Bacon, and Child (1957) found that socialization pressure toward nurturance, obedience, and responsibilities was much higher for girls than for boys across 110 societies. However, some studies have produced contrary results. For example, de Guzman et al. (2002) found no gender differences in prosocial behaviors for the Gikuyu children of Ngecha, Kenya; for these children, social contexts of work and childcare proved to be strong socialization settings that elicited high levels of prosocial behavior from both boys and girls.

Finally, aggression can be defined as satisfying the actor's own needs through an ascendant or commanding style that inflicts some kind of injury or loss of resources to the other. Although psychologists continue to debate about whether aggression is innate or learned, research has documented that positive reinforcement and permissive conditions increase the level of aggressive behaviors. Indeed, Western research shows that parents who reward and encourage aggression seem to have aggressive children (Bandura & Walters, 1963). The same is true of mothers in non-Western societies, who have high levels of controlling and reprimanding behavior and who uphold children's dominant/aggressive and insulting behaviors to meet their egoistic needs (Whiting & Edwards, 1988). Indeed, societies where people value and reward aggression produce highly aggressive individuals (Chagnon, 1968; Ember & Ember, 1994). Punitive socialization promotes rather than decreases children's hostility and aggression (Zigler & Child, 1969). This can occur in cultural communities with extended family households where outward aggression cannot be tolerated with so many people living together (Harrington & Whiting, 1972).

Whiting and Edwards (1988) found that physical teasing, assaulting, and insulting occured at similar levels whether older children are interacting with younger ones, or vice versa. However, there was also very consistent evidence of gender differences in aggression, and this has been confirmed across both Western and non-Western societies. Past about age 3, boys generally show more aggression than girls (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Whiting & Edwards, 1973).

Children seem to come into the world with similar but not identical endowments for dyadic interaction across cultures. Cultural scripts in many societies then set girls and boys on different courses by exaggerating, reducing, or redirecting any emerging gender differences through the mechanisms of constraining the company that children keep, the activities they perform, and the locations in which they spend their time. Children too are active in their own gender socialization and, whenever they can, make predictable choices about whom they will observe and imitate, how, where, and with whom they will play, and when and how they will contribute to the care of others and the useful work needed to carry on daily life in their community.

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