Child Rearing Practices

Kids in Yemeni Capital San'a
Kids in Yemeni Capital San'a. Source: yeowatzup (Flicker) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In traditional Arab culture, infants and younger children will spend most of their time with their mothers, grandmothers and aunts, who are responsible for their care and discipline. Older brothers, sisters and cousins are also expected to help with caring for and playing with younger children. Because so many family members contribute to raising young children and serve as authority figures, Arabs are homogeneous in their experience of childhood. Arab children learn the same values consistently from all adults; their upbringing is not as arbitrarily dependent on the approach of their particular parents as it is in Western societies.

In traditional Arab culture there has always been a marked preference for boys over girls because men contribute more to the family’s influence in the community. Arab children are provided different role models for personality development. Boys are expected to be aggressive and decisive; girls are expected to be more passive. In a number of Arab countries and amongst Arabic speaking communities in Australia, this attitude towards boys and girls is starting to change now that women are being educated and becoming wage earners.

Hassan, aged 31, (left), a carpenter from Syria, with his three children and his brother in a suburb of Amman, Jordan
Hassan, aged 31, (left), a carpenter from Syria, with his three children and his brother in a suburb of Amman, Jordan. Source: DFID - UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In Arab culture the most important requirement for a “good” child is respectful behaviour in front of adults. All adults may share in correcting a child, because parents know that all adults have the same values. So, with Arabic families in Australia, it is acceptable for a child’s uncle, aunt or adult family friends to discipline a child and instruct them on acceptable and polite behaviour.

In the family home, children are expected to greet adults with a handshake, stay to converse for a few minutes if asked, and refrain from interrupting or talking back. If you are visiting a family at home, you may observe that children often help to serve guests and in this way, they learn the requirements of hospitality.

Arabs tend to give parents much of the credit for their children’s successes and much of the blame for their failures. Parents readily make sacrifices for their children’s welfare; they expect these efforts to be acknowledged and their parental influence to continue throughout the child’s lifetime.

We have outlined here some of the most important cultural aspects of child rearing in Arabic speaking families and you can read further on strategies when engaging Arabic speaking families.