Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Caregiver Sensitivity in Cultural Context: Japanese and U.S. Teachers' Beliefs about Anticipating and Responding to Children's Needs

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Caregiver Sensitivity in Cultural Context: Japanese and U.S. Teachers' Beliefs about Anticipating and Responding to Children's Needs

Article excerpt

Abstract. Western investigators assume that caregiver sensitivity takes similar forms and has similar outcomes in all cultures. However, cultural research suggests that sensitivity in the West has more to do with responsiveness to children's explicit expression of need, and that sensitivity in non-Western communities has more to do with anticipation of children's needs and receptivity to subtle and nonverbal cues. To date, no studies have directly assessed these differences. The present study examines interviews of 20 preschool teachers, 9 from the United States and 11 from Japan. Teachers were presented with scenarios and asked whether it is better to anticipate or respond to children's needs. Findings support the hypothesis that U.S. teachers prefer to respond to explicit expressions of need and that Japanese teachers prefer to anticipate children's needs. U.S. teachers also emphasize that children should learn to depend on themselves, that children are responsible for clarifying their own needs, and that children's self-expression should be encouraged. By contrast, Japanese teachers emphasize that children should learn to depend on their teachers, that teachers are responsible for clarifying children's needs, and that teachers must make assumptions about children's needs. These findings have implications for helping Japanese children and their parents adapt to the U.S. preschool setting.

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In a Japanese preschool, at lunchtime, a teacher constantly helps children by cutting food into small pieces, feeding children, and opening containers. She does not ask the children whether they need help and they do not ask for help. Instead, she closely observes the children and anticipates and interprets their needs.

In a U.S. preschool, at lunchtime, a teacher notices that some children are struggling with their juice box straws and says, "Let me know if you'd like my help." One child approaches her, exclaiming, "I can't do this; can you do this for me?" The teacher responds, "I will come right over and help you."

These anecdotes, as well as evidence reviewed below, suggest cultural differences in sensitivity: Japanese caregivers (parents and teachers) emphasize the importance of anticipating children's needs based on subtle and indirect cues, including situational factors, and U.S. caregivers emphasize the importance of responding to children's explicit expression of need. The major goals of this article are: 1) to review studies providing anecdotal and indirect evidence that these differences exist, and 2) to report findings from a study that directly tests the cultural differences.

It is important to note that no prior studies have directly examined cultural differences in anticipation versus responsiveness. It also should be noted that prior work on cultural differences in sensitivity has focused on parent-child relationships in the home. We are not aware of any prior reports bearing on cultural differences in teachers' anticipation versus responsiveness. (Throughout this article, we use the shorthand terms "anticipation" and "responsiveness" to refer to the distinction between proactive behavior based on children's subtle and indirect cues, including situational factors, and behavior that is reactive to children's explicit expression of need.)

Parental Sensitivity and Child Security

Before examining cultural differences in sensitivity, it is important to note the pivotal role of sensitivity in socialization outcomes. Several major theories of child development depict caregivers' sensitivity as a key element in the development of the child's well-being (Baumrind & Thompson, 2002; Cassidy & Shaver, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Sensitivity is typically defined as alertness to children's signals and appropriateness, consistency, and promptness of response to those signals (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Keller, Yovsi, & Voelker, 2002). …

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