ACTIVITY: Respect for Diversity: Understanding Behavior Within A Cultural Context: Lucien

ACTIVITY: Respect for Diversity: Understanding Behavior Within A Cultural Context: Lucien

young boy playing

Respect for diversity and viewing behavior through a cultural lens helps to understand behavior within its cultural context. This skill is essential to understanding the meaning of the behavior, identifying any concerns, and planning for any individualized intervention. The cultural context of behavior includes the cultural influences of family, community, and setting in which the behavior occurs. Review the vignette below and respond to the reflective questions that follow the vignette.

Vignette – Lucien

I am Natalia Jones, a mental health consultant to Nuestros Niños child care in a major city in Texas. Ms. Flores is a teacher who works in the preschool classroom. She contacted me with concerns about a little boy in her class named Lucien. She described Lucien as shy, quiet, and somewhat withdrawn four year old boy, who has only been in the program for the last four months. Ms. Flores explained that on several occasions she has tried to engage Lucien to play with puppets, and in the dress up and kitchen areas to see if he will interact with his peers or engage in fantasy play, but whenever Lucien is invited to join, he looks over quickly, but will not join in the activity. His only interest is playing in the block area, which he has been doing for the several months he has been in the program. She asked me to come into the classroom and observe Lucien to help her to understand his behavior and address any concerns.

When I enter the classroom, Ms. Flores calls all of the children to sit on their mats for story time, and although the other children respond, Lucian remains seated alone lining blocks up in the block area. Ms. Flores calls him to join the others on the carpet and after two attempts, goes and catches him by the hand, brings him to the carpet, and gently guides him to sit on carpet by placing her hands on his shoulders. The children on either side of Lucien speak to him, but Lucien appears not to notice and does not respond. After about 30 minutes, I leave the classroom and return later that afternoon to speak with Ms. Flores and set up another date and time to observe Lucien.

On the second observation, I arrive as the children are enjoying free play, and I am able to sit quietly and observe Lucien alone in the block area. After a few minutes another little boy comes over to play and begins to talk to Lucien, who barely acknowledges the child. After a few more attempts to engage Lucien, the other little boy gets up and walks away to join some other children in another activity. As the children are taken to lunch, I take advantage of the opportunity to speak with Ms. Flores. She begins to tell me about Lucien’s father and share some of the information that she knows about the family.

Lucien’s father, Mr. Lorenzo is a fire fighter and single parent, who seems to be very devoted to Lucien; and spends one of his days off volunteering in either the classroom or in other areas of the building on a weekly basis. Ms. Flores tells me that she and Lucien’s father have had a disagreement and admits that she may have gotten off to a difficult start by expressing her concerns to his father before speaking with me. She explains that on this particular day, Mr. Lorenzo was assisting in the assembly of new playground equipment, and happened to stop by the classroom. He observed Ms. Flores trying to get Lucien to play in the dress up and kitchen areas. When the teacher’s aide took the children to the outdoor area, Mr. Lorenzo approached Ms. Flores asking to speak with her; she agreed saying that she had wanted to speak with him and is glad for the opportunity to talk.

According to Ms. Flores, she began to relate her concerns to Mr. Lorenzo about Lucien’s isolation from his classmates; his unwillingness to play in areas other than the blocks. Mr. Lorenzo interrupted her and began to tell her that his son is a good boy, who keeps to himself and does not fight. He explained that Lucien is good at building things and that he has encouraged his son to do things that he is good at; adding that building with blocks is also something that Lucien and he like to do together at home. He told Ms. Flores that he did not appreciate her trying to “sissify” his son by suggesting that he play in the dress up and kitchen areas. He stated that he had noticed this on many occasions and has firmly told Lucien not to play in the areas that are meant for girls and to stick with the blocks or trucks which are boys’ toys.

Ms. Flores said that she tried to explain the program’s philosophy of providing varied play environments and opportunities for imaginary play, but Mr. Lorenzo would not hear of it. In the end he excused himself and joined the children and aide in the outdoor area. Ms. Flores has had time to reflect and told me that she feels that she crossed some line that she never saw or imagined. She tells me that she asked my assistance because of her concerns for Lucien as well as her desire to come to some sort of resolution with Mr. Lorenzo.

Cultural Context Reflective Questions

As a mental health consultant, how should Dr. Jones address Ms. Flores’ concerns regarding Lucien’s emotional and behavioral development and devise a strategy to build Ms. Flores’ respect for diversity and assist her in resolving the conflict with Mr. Lorenzo? Respond to the reflective questions below:

Family, Community, and Setting

  1. What cultural beliefs, values, and practices are reflected by Lucien’s father in this vignette?
  2. In your opinion, what are Ms. Flores’ cultural beliefs and values regarding children and opportunities for play?
  3. What do you think Ms. Flores’ concerns are for Lucien’s social and emotional development and why?
  4. What cultural contexts and conflicts are at play in this vignette?
  5. What strategies or approaches should Dr. Jones employ to enhance Ms. Flores’ respect for diversity, acknowledge cultural differences, and acquire knowledge that will help her to:
    1. Explore Lucien’s father’s concerns more deeply?
    2. Work through the conflict and differences of opinion?
  1. A good boy is one who does not fight, boys should only play with 'boy toys', gender identity must be reinforced with clear boundaries, father/son relationships are important, father/son shared interests are valued, school and community are valued, parent involvement and volunteering one's time and talents is important, etc.
  2. Creative and pretend play is valuable for a child's development, gender should not restrict play experiences, recognizing and expressing feelings are important, play provides opportunity for interaction, social skills, and exploring various activities, etc.
  3. She is concerned that his social emotional development is restrained, showing reluctance to interact with others and engage in varied play activities and learning, restricted opportunity for new experiences in part related to strong messages from his father related to gender and identity, etc.
  4. The cultural contexts at play here are personal for both Mr. Lorenzo and Ms. Flores; professional child care provider for Mrs. Flores; and possible community context for Mr. Lorenzo (e.g. acceptable activities for boys and how others view him), as well as the child care setting and expectations of parent/teacher interaction for both. The conflicts include gender identity and what it means to be a boy, the importance of imaginary play opportunities including role play, parenting style, the influence of parent's perspectives versus teacher’s role, etc.
    1. Dr. Jones can help Ms. Flores explore her thoughts, feelings, and concerns about Lucien and her experience with Mr. Lorenzo; what may have contributed to the tension between them; and how she may have dealt with situations like this in the past. Dr. Jones can also help Ms. Flores explore the cultural context of the situation; helping her to reflect on her personal cultural values from her own growing up and her perspective as a child care provider. In turn, she can help Ms. Flores recognize what might be some of Mr. Lorenzo's values, his perspective, and where there might be conflict.

      Dr. Jones could suggest a meeting with Mr. Lorenzo and offer to be part of that meeting, aimed at building understanding and a more collaborative relationship between Ms. Flores and Mr. Lorenzo. Dr. Jones can help Ms. Flores acknowledge Mr. Lorenzo's important and valuable role as a parent, appreciate his dedication to caring for Lucien and teaching him to be a ‘good boy', recognize Mr. Lorenzo's contribution as a volunteer and his value for Lucien's school experience, identify ways to inquire about what's important to him in Lucien's experience at school, explore his thinking about children's play interests, etc.

    2. Dr. Jones can encourage Ms. Flores to engage in dialogue with Mr. Lorenzo to explore the items/areas above and his personal and community cultural context; reflect back what Mr. Lorenzo shares about himself, being a parent, his wishes for Lucien, and his feelings. Ms. Flores can then share and explain her perspective and values as an early care and education provider; provide reasons for what she thinks and feels about the situation. With support and guidance from Dr. Jones, she can encourage discussion with Mr. Lorenzo to better understand one another explore ideas of how they can work together to help Lucien have a positive and full experience in school so he can explore new ideas and activities, feel good about himself, and interact with others.
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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.