Maternal expectations about normal child development in 4 cultural groups

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997 Nov;151(11):1144-50. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.1997.02170480074011.


Objective: To determine whether expectations about normal infant and child development are different among mothers from 4 ethnocultural groups.

Participants: Two hundred fifty-five mothers (90 Puerto Rican, 59 African American, 69 European American, 37 West Indian-Caribbean) whose children received health care at hospital-based pediatric clinics and private pediatricians' and family practitioners' offices.

Design: Verbally administered questionnaire that included 25 questions in which mothers were asked to give their opinions about the age at which a normal child should begin to accomplish standard developmental milestones.

Analysis: Responses (mean ages at which mothers expected children to attain the milestones) from each group were compared after controlling for age of mother, number of children, level of education, and socioeconomic status.

Results: Significant differences among ethnic groups' responses were seen for 9 of 25 developmental milestones. Differences were mainly seen among personal and social milestones, and Puerto Rican mothers tended to expect children to attain these milestones at a later age than did other mothers. No differences in responses were seen between Spanish- and English-speaking Puerto Rican mothers. European-American mothers expected children to take first steps and become toilet trained at a later age.

Conclusions: Developmental expectations differ among mothers from different ethnocultural groups. Many of these differences can be explained by underlying cultural beliefs and values and specific child-rearing practices. Clinicians should ask about maternal expectations during child health visits to interpret mothers' concerns and opinions about their children's development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology
  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Culture*
  • Ethnic Groups / psychology*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Puerto Rico / ethnology