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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 2

Beliefs, Values and Preconceptions

Individual attitudes, beliefs, and values inevitably affect our perceptions of the world, including our perceptions of children and families. Our perceptions, in turn, influence team behavior.

Take a moment to reflect on how the following factors have shaped your attitudes, beliefs, values and behavior:

  • Your upbringing: The place and time of your birth. The attitudes and beliefs of your family of origin. The dynamics, which were present within your family of origin.
  • Your education: The concepts, ideas and skills that you have learned through both formal and informal education. The teachers who have influenced you.
  • Your religious beliefs
  • Your political beliefs
  • Your culture and your ethnicity
  • Your close relationships
  • Your most powerful personal experiences (positive and negative)

Think about how the above factors have influenced your views about -

  • child development
  • typical vs. atypical child behavior,
  • healthy vs. dysfunctional families
  • appropriate methods of disciplining children
  • appropriate teaching methods
  • appropriate boundaries between children and adults
  • the expression of emotion
  • the expression of physical affection
  • the importance (or lack of importance) of extended family
  • the relative importance of educational pursuits, creative pursuits, social networks, personal development, etc...

People in general have a tendency to regard their own culture and their own beliefs as 'normal' and 'right.' Being comfortable with your own ways of perceiving and understanding the world is fine - as long as you maintain a healthy respect for differences.

Mother holding baby"Ethnocentrism" is defined as the process of seeing the world only through the lens of one's own particular culture. Believing his/her own culture to be "normal," the ethnocentric person disregards other cultures, traditions and belief systems (Hooper & Umansky, 2004). In our multicultural society, it is especially important to honor and respect differences. It is therefore crucial that we all make a conscious effort to avoid ethnocentric thinking and ethnocentric behavior.

Our attitudes, beliefs and values and experiences influence not only how we perceive families, but also how we behave toward our fellow team members.

Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario #1: Team member A had a single negative experience with team member B. This experience changed member A's perception of member B. Member A's behavior toward member B was once positive but now, it is guarded and distrusting.

Scenario #2: Member C has very liberal religious and political beliefs. One day, Member C discovers that Member D holds equally strong, but opposing views. Member C's perception of member D changes. Member C is no longer as able to objectively 'hear' member D's team contributions. She is more critical of member D than she used to be.

Scenario #3: Member B was raised in a racially segregated, rural white community. Member B's parents did not understand or accept people from other cultures. Member B went to college and made a tremendous effort to gain knowledge and overcome biases. Yet, she occasionally struggles with culturally sensitive communication. Without realizing it, she makes an insensitive remark to team member E. Member E is offended and hurt, but says nothing. Communication between members B and E is distant and formal from that point forward.

These examples show how our personal history can affect team process. Sometimes, we are not even aware that a problem exists. Member D in scenario 2 may not understand why Member C now questions her contributions. Member B in scenario 3 was not even aware that she offended Member E. Yet, in all of these scenarios, the teaming process suffered.

Keep in mind that in each of these scenarios, the highlighted member may be a parent. For example, Member C in Scenario #2 or Member E in Scenario #3 could be a parent. Like the other members of the early intervention team, caregivers have their own unique values, beliefs and preconceptions. All of these factors will influence team process.

It is important to recognize that families are continually flowing into and out of early intervention teams as they begin services and later transition out of the Early Steps system. Under such circumstances, it is possible for the remaining team members to develop their own 'culture,' with shared beliefs and norms. One unfortunate consequence of seeing so many families come and go is that a team may begin to make unfair judgments and comparisons. For example, a team may begin to regard a particular caregiver as excessively demanding, needy, hostile or uncooperative. If the team does not stop and consider the caregiver's perspective, very detrimental effects can occur (Thomas, Correa & Morsink, 2001). It is therefore the responsibility of all team members, including the caregiver, to ensure that the family's stated needs are recognized, respected and supported.

When values and preconceptions interfere with team process, the resulting problems are often very unique. However, some general comments about how to handle such situations can be made. For example, Harris (1996) outlined a set of recommendations for facilitating communication in a multicultural society. Harris's recommendations can be broadly applied to many problems. When faced with a challenging situation, Harris (1996) recommends

  1. Making a sincere effort to see things from the other person's viewpoint
  2. Being open to learning new things
  3. Approaching others with a desire to learn
  4. Being willing to share information about yourself
  5. Being flexible
  6. Keeping your sense of humor
  7. Learning to tolerate ambiguity

The issue of culturally sensitive communication is addressed in greater detail in Lesson 3 of this Module.


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