Archived Issue 7

Welcome to Baby Gazette

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The premise of this issue’s “Brief Article” is that in the development of human children culture matters, and cultures are fluid, dynamic, living, thriving and evolving phenomena. Thus my goal is to review how culture matters. I argue that we have to identify and make sense of existing commonalities as well as variations among us in order to understand these nexus and prevent ruptures and frictions resulted from the focus on variations.

I would like to point out that the presumption of cultural relativism as a foundation of all human interactions is a dangerous one and may result in further isolation, alienation, miscommunication and added stress for the survivors of systemic violence. Of course, challenges are more serious for young children – the most vulnerable group who are fully dependent on the adults around them.

It is important to note that this article is but a summary brief of the recent findings and by no means is inclusive of all developmental dimensions, nor is exhaustive of all major research done in this field.

The “Your Corner” note in this issue is from a colleague with passion about children and their mothers. The Editorial Team decided to include the comment, editing ONLY for length and context, as it related to the goals and objectives of Baby Gazette. The Editorial Team would like to thank our contributor-colleague for the very important note, and would appreciate future contributions.

Brief Article

Cultural Relativism vs. Universality of Impact of Trauma on Young Children:

Impacts of Exposure to Systemic Violence in Developmental Context in Early Childhood

PART 2. In this issue, developmental domains will be reviewed from cultural and ecological perspectives as impacted by trauma and violence caused by separation from the primary caregiver(s) for war and geopolitical turmoil. The premise of this article is that in development of human children culture matters and cultures are fluid, dynamic, living, thriving and evolving phenomena.

Ecology and Development:

A Traumatic event affects children, their families, society, and the world at large. An ecological perspective introduces the effects of socio-political violence on development of young children in the world, within the context of social-cultural domains.

A broad definition of culture as a complex construct, refers to a set of beliefs, standards and credos, norms and values shared by a group of people from a common heritage (history, language, rituals.)

A family unit is the foundation within each culture. Its purpose is to nurture and protect, provide suitable condition to satisfy child’s developmental needs, and a safe environment where children can learn their first lessons on socialization and about their culture and community.

While it is important to formulate the theoretical context of the cultural impacts – including developmental ones, it is also important to document cultural diversities and variations. The presumption of cultural relativism as a foundation of all human interactions is a dangerous one and may result in further isolation, alienation, miscommunication and added stress for the survivors of systemic violence. Of course, challenges are more serious for young children – the most vulnerable group who are fully dependent on the adults around them.

Documentation of diverse culturally structured environments is important from several perspectives. From the anthropological perspective it provides insight into larger patterns of cultural organization. From a psychological view it provides the basis for reconsideration of developmental theories that assume that a middle class western way of life is the norm (Whiting & Edwards, 1988).

Although race and ethnicity are the most obvious components of culture, there are other factors shaping one’s values, ideas, attitudes, experiences, historical practices, intergenerational memories, learning processes, use of language and other tools, as identifiers of unification among people. Cultural identity in turn, is a narrative of the history, a chosen identifier in where an individual seeks comfort.

Challenges experienced by war refugees and immigrants in their new homeland are multifaceted and multi-dimensional. Cumulative experiences of trauma and loss adding to the resettlement traumatic events may result in various psychological and psychiatric disorders including depressive and post traumatic stress disorders (Holman, Silver & Waitzen, 2002), which in turn generates vulnerability to any new traumatic situation and revictimization.

Refugee families with young children who mostly are forced to leave their homeland behind, are faced with an additional dilemma in their adopted-host country: acculturation – acceptance of the values, norms and beliefs of the dominant culture which shape the societal institutions, action-reaction to the environmental phenomena including normative standards for human interactions.

These families have to adopt a world view which may be different than and even in conflict with their own belief systems and traditions. During this transition period, many traditions are lost, and the family structure and functioning changes. This is especially true among the young children – the next generation. This unresolved grief and loss and other losses manifest themselves in psychosocial alienation, variety of psychological disorders and variety of anti-social behaviors such as substance abuse and addictions, violence at home against most vulnerable family members. (This is especially important when we discuss the interventions and services delivered for this population.)

This dilemma for the immigrant and refugee families become more complicated when the dominant-host culture has a part in the course and outcome of the violent and traumatic events to which these families have been exposed. Examples of geopolitical conflicts and wars are many to recall even within the recent history.

Historical trauma is cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma. Therefore, another aspect of ecology of trauma that must be considered is the historical context in relation to multigenerational trauma, genocide and policy of assimilation. Some of the world’s indigenous populations are bearers of such traumatic wounds (Witko, 2002).

According to Super and Harkness (1982; 1986), child development is contingent on the socio-cultural context, presented through shaping the beliefs and the behaviors. This socio-cultural framework of development that is referred to as the “developmental niche” is similar to Bronfenbrenner’s systems approach.

Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) systems approach to development considers the child’s environment as a multi-contextual and multi-dimensional system. The complexity of multi-dimensional cross-cultural human interactions is presented in the ecological model developed by Bronfenbrenner. In this model, the world of the child is influenced by the larger world around him, from immediate (family) to distant (traditions and history). I hypothesize an ecological model that all levels of the child’s complex world interact simultaneously and thus the impacts of any interactions with the child at any given moment are multi-dimensional, dynamic, fluid, and simultaneous. Based on this multi-dimensional, direct, interaction-impact theory (Zarnegar, 1999* see the attached Figure).

The Super & Harkness’s developmental niche, similarly represents the impetus for the integration of inter-disciplinary framework within the cultural context, which includes the primary caregiver(s) and the family of any given child. The central component of thedevelopmental niche, Integration System Theory, and-or Systems Approach is a child with his/her characteristics and dispositions.

The world of the child is complex and at any given time reflects interactions between multiple factors: (a) individual child’s component: (e.g., gender, age, developmental stage and cognitive functioning, affective response, perception of the changes and dependency on the caregiver, temperament, and other psychological dispositions); (b) the caregiver’s component: (e.g., psychology of the caregiver; parents’ cultural belief systems and the ethno-theories such as beliefs about and care for the needs of children, perception of parenting role and responsibilities, emotional underpinnings about effective parenting and child rearing practices, general status of health and well-being, pre-existing trauma and impacts of past and present systemic trauma and her/his narrative of it, literacy and level of education, knowledge of developmental processes, ethnic and cultural identity, social economic status, and political and psychosocial status); and (c) environment component: ( e.g., the physical and social settings of everyday life, customs of child care and child rearing practices (e.g., sleeping arrangements), history, traditional practices, literacy, religion, community stability and services, and significant others and active support system). These factors parallel or in combination influence the health and quality of life of young children and their mothers/primary caregivers and cannot be considered separately or in isolation.

With the same token, the multi-dimensional normal development during early childhood depends on the internal world of the child, the child’s relationship with her/his world and quality of the environment (Shore, 2001). A child’s responses to the surrounding world are in relation to these factors. Putting this in developmental terms, schemata of experience of self in contact with others (Daniel Stern, 1994) are an essential component of transformation throughout the developmental stages of childhood. It relies on the abilities of assimilation of new information, andaccommodation – integrating the new information within the existing repertoire (Piaget, 1971) to rebuild a sense of trust, intimacy and connectedness with the world after a traumatic experience.

Cultural Relativism vs. Universality of Impact of Trauma on Young Children:

The least understood and most neglected subject in the literature is research findings supporting short and long-term complex sequelae for young children subjected to adverse events of war. Although, psychophysical, verbal and facial expression of emotions have been researched by many.

The universality of emotional response in facing tragedy and traumatic experience could be studied in the oral and written testimony and research conducted by mental health professionals collected by Action for Rights of Children (ARC), (September 2002). Garbarino, Bradshaw, and Vorrasi (2002) and other researchers, for example, refer to the negative impacts of traumatic and violent events on the psychological well-being of children, including anxiety, nervousness, distress, loneliness, depression, grief, bed-wetting, feeding and sleep problems, intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation and self-destructive behavior and self-harm, and antisocial behavior.

Susan Bailey and Nathan Whittle (2004) address decline in cognitive performance and school achievement among the children exposed to trauma and violence. Additionally, they state that repeated trauma places children potentially at risk for hopelessness and despair, inappropriate emotional expression of anger or severe psychic numbing and dissociation.

According to the social-cultural relativism theory, reactions to stressful events and suffering due to exposure to significant conflict-related trauma among refugee children might be manifested through the mediation by the “coping strategies, belief systems, and social relations” (Lustig, et. al, 2004).

While the Naturalistic theoreticians consider emotions as products of natural processes and independent from cultural norms and interpretations (see Ratner, 1989), Integrationists, in contrast, acknowledge cultural importance in emotional expressions. Based on this theory, emotions are representations of interactions that take place between natural core elements that are considered as basic, enduring and universal biologically based, and the culturally derive emotions that are considered contingent and variable.

Ratner (1989) challenges the duality of biology (nature) and cultural-social aspects of emotions (nurture) by stating that the social-cultural domain “accommodates biology” but does not determine the outcome. He considers human biology as a capacity for the feelings and emotional reactions to events. In turn, culture provides opportunity for actualization of existing human potential. The culture provides a “niche” or “ethos” which Ratner considers them “a set of guidelines for feeling.” In validating his theory, Ratner points out cultural examples, such as the Eskimo culture lacking anger. According to Solomon (1984), this is “because they do not blame individuals for their actions.” According to Solomon, Eskimos show a range of emotions such as feeling annoyed and even act violently, but this is not because of anger. This indeed differs from the pre-deterministic notion of emotional response, say for example sadness in response to separation, loss and grief. Super and Harkness (1982) show that separation anxiety is culturally dependent. They note for example, that there is a significant difference between young children of middle class in the United States and Mayan children in Guatemala in their expression of sadness due to separation from their primary caregivers.

It should be noted, however, that although some of the theories offer research finding on cross-cultural differences, these differences are far from simplistic; they are multi-factorial and complex. Some of the contributing factors to cultural differences include socio-economic, education level, family structure, urban or rural residencies, religious and beliefs, political, ethnic and cultural identity, and interactions among these factors RITTS, (1999).


To this point, the recent research findings show us that exposure to violence and trauma in early childhood alters developmental pathways in all domains, and the severe and chronic traumatic exposure early in life impacts development in a more profound way. In conclusion, there are many theories that assert that culture plays a significant role in young children’s developmental processes, as there are theories focusing on cross-cultural variations.


    • Action for Rights of Children (ARC), (September 2002). Save the Children Fund. ARC is an inter-agency initiative, initiated by UNHCR and the International Save the Children Alliance in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human
    • Bailey, S. and Whittle, N. (2004). Adolescent Forensic Service, Bolton Salford & Trafford Mental Health. NHS Trust, Bury New Road, Prestwich, Manchester M25 3BL, UK Tel: +44 161 772 3666; fax: +44 161 772 3443;
    • Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    • Families. In C. H. Zeanah, Jr. (Ed)., Handbook of infant mental health. New York: Guilford Press, 485-493.
    • Garbarino J, Bradshaw CP, Vorrasi JA. (2002). Mitigating the effects of gun violence on children and youth. The Future of Children. 12:73-85.
    • Holman, E., Silver, E., and Waitzkin, H. (2002). Traumatic life events in primary care patients: A study in an ethnically diverse sample. Retrieved from the PubMed database.
    • Lustig, S. L., Kia-Keating, M., Knight, W. G., Geltman, P., Ellis, H., Kinzie, J. D., Keane, T., and Saxe, G. N. (2004). Review of Child and Adolescent Refugee Mental Health. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 43(1):24-36, January.
    • Piaget, Jean (1971). Biology and Knowledge: An Essay on the relations between organic regulations and cognitive processes. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
    • Ratner, C. (1989). A Social Constructionist Critique of Naturalistic Theories of Emotion. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 10, 211-230.
    • RITTS, V. (1999). Infusing culture into psychopathology: A Supplement for psychology instructorsV. Ritts Web Page
    • Schore, A. (2001). The effects of early relational trauma on right-brain development, affect, regulation and infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal. Vol. 22 (1-2), 201-269.
    • Solomon, R. C. (1984). Getting angry. In R. Shweder and R. LeVine (Eds.),Culture theory ( chapter 9). New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Stern, Daniel (1994). One way to build a clinically relevant baby. Infant Mental Health Journal 15:36-54.
    • Super, C., and Harkness, S. (1982). The development of affect in infancy and early childhood. In D. Wagner and H. Stevenson (Eds.), Cultural perspectives on child development (Chapter 1). San Francisco: Freeman.
    • SUPER, C.M., HARKNESS, S.: The developmental niche: A conceptualization at the interface of child and culture. Int. J. Behav. Dev., 9, 545-569 (1986).
    • Whiting, B.B., & Edwards, C.P. (1988). Children of different worlds: The formation of social behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
    • Witko,T. M.(2002). No Longer Forgotten: Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Urban Indians. W. DC: APA Books.
    • Zarnegar, Z. (1999). External World of the Child: A multi-dimensional direct interaction-impact theory (Unpublished Manuscript)

News Briefs

Lancet Series (Neonatal Survival)

Eight million children are either stillborn or die each year within the first month of life. This figure never makes news.

The issue of child survival is a moral as well as a health barometer of our times. The aim of the present Lancet series (Neonatal Survival) is to erase the excuse of ignorance for public and political inaction once and for all.

This series is the product of a partnership between scientists, health workers, and journal editors. Together we can make a difference to the lives of those who have no voice.

We believe that this is the most important public health campaign we have taken part in for a generation. It is for this reason that we are making this special issue available at no cost to all 1.1 million registered users of

Simply click through this link: to a digital edition of this entire 56 page special issue. Please also feel free to forward this email to your colleagues.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Horton

Just for Your Information

Training & Continuing Education

Beyond Talk: Tools for Advocacy and Social Action 2005 Psychologists for Social Responsibility – Counselors for Social Justice Conference
When: May 19-22, 2005
Where: Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon

Contact Information:
PSYSR-CSJ Conference
208 “I” St., NE, Suite B
Washington, DC 20002

Fax: (202) 543-5348

Second Global Conference
Creative Engagements: Thinking with Children Description
When: Thursday 14th July – Saturday 16th July 2005
Where: Mansfield College, Oxford

“This second global research conference aims to explore multi- and inter-disciplinary perspectives on creatively engaging with children. Looking at historical and contemporary representations of childhood, the project will assess the complex issues which surround the notion of creative engagement in the context of education, examine how creative engagement can be located in institutional pedagogy and the curriculum, explore the implications and impact of the ‘philosophy for children’ movement, and look at how children can develop social and life skills whilst also encouraging autonomy and independence.”

Call for papers on 4 focus areas. Please see for information.

Contact Information:

“Emotion in Motion: Infants, Young Children, and Parents Dancing with Feelings”

When: October 23-25, 2005
Where: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Contact Information:
Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health
The Guidance Center
13101 Allen Road
Southgate, MI 48195
Your Corner

Hello ZZ:

Have you ever heard of our syndrome “apathic child syndrome” children lying in bed with nutrition through infusion or through the nose? They are children of non-resident parents in Sweden. Sweden is not following the 1951 Geneva Convention, our asylum politics is just what the word means “a political matter” and is called humane. But in my terms in reality it’s inhumane, that’s the reason we have this syndrome with apathic children. Our new Immigration minister (IM) …wants to build “Fort Knox of Europe”, that’s why in all the 9 known cases the asylum application has been accepted after the jurisdiction procedure. The IM uses the worst argument of them all because she says “but if we give all apathic children permanent residence we will have, thousands coming” (so we through them all out and call it justice) …the same argument with raped women – “we know that women are raped in Bangladesh but we can not bring all of them to Sweden”.

Women and children should be talked about at the same time – speaking of vulnerable groups living under similar conditions. Both have very low status when it comes to violence and position in courts. The estimated number of raped women in Sweden is 20,000. a year, 2,600 cases are brought up in court but only one case in a hundred there is a conviction. The focus is on the victim – the young woman – how was she dressed? How much did she drink? Why didn’t she think logically and run away etc. Who can even think of a logical reaction in a situation like that?

The trial ends up in the same way every time- the guys said “she agreed” and the judge said “if she knew the situation was risky she should not drink too much so she could defend herself”. What about that young girl walking home at night in the middle of the city of Stockholm – she came across a gang. They just took off her clothes in the middle of the street, and they raped her. In the subway girls are raped, nobody comes to help them; they just look. Of course because there is rarely a conviction in courts, the domestic violence against women increased last year in Sweden about four percent. In spite of the law saying that every kind of violence against a woman is a crime. Organisations get more and more money to help women who are victims of violence, but the research shows that women feel that they are raped again by coming to the hospital or meeting the police to make a statement. They need to be believed and accepted by telling their story and not be questioned.

A special kind of violence in Sweden called “honour related violence”. One brilliant girl was shot a couple of years ago by her father. In these families the mother is in her husband’s prison. Not only the father kills his own daughter, brothers also do that for the reason of power.

In times of war showing the strength in power is carried out as mass rape. Former Yugoslavia is a good example of that. In every corner where there are civil conflicts, wars and internally displaced persons women and children are vulnerable groups to sexual abuse. Also in refugee camps they are at danger. Amnesty International (AI) has criticized many countries to let women and children live with criminal elements. According to AI annual report of 1997, 115 countries use Organized State Violence (OSV) against their citizens and of course they all deny that fact. Torture and sexual abuse occur when breakdown of civil order and crime against Human Rights Violation (HRV) exists. But in many countries women are denied the rights in the every day living such as to study, to work, to vote, to drive a car, to have own money, choose their own clothes, speak in public etc. And in some countries a woman’s life when it comes to court is not even worth a piece of paper. In India a woman can be burnt, in spite that it is forbidden in the law, for not having enough money in the dowry. In India they also practice ritual rape for the young girl. We all remember the atrocities against women in Afghanistan when the Taliban where in power, they raped young girls and shot the mothers when they tried to protect their girls. In the article “behind the veil” we could see the wonderful sad face of Zarmina who was shot in the head by her own brother in law at the Olympia Stadium of Kabul. The execution was showed to the whole world thanks to RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan). The Taliban who announced the execution said she had committed a terrible crime, had spent three months in prison but now she must be executed. First of all she was beaten with steel cables in the women prison of Kabul for two days to sign a confession. Second she spent three years in that prison, but she had never committed the crime she was accused of.

In Iran at the end of last year the young teenagers where hanged in Tehran. One was raped, the other one was violated of incest by her two year older brother. This is an example again when the justice system is carried out in the opposite way – on the victim – instead of the perpetrator. In Africa it’s the same; a woman is condemned to death penalty by stoning (an unacceptable way to kill a human being) for having sex (raped).

Violence against women also takes place in the every day living, the invisible but present violence.

Sweden is known as the most organised country in the world. The thing is that the law says that every case has to be treated individually, but she generalizes all the time, so many different cases always have the same denial.

Authorities are supposed to control all the conventions, policies, rules, all the fine laws. But the system fails. Sweden breaks every convention and policy. It all looks good on the paper. Abusive treatment is common (in spite of all the nice policies) especially against women. Between 3- 400 persons take their lives every year due to hard conditions at work. Female doctors are a special vulnerable; suicide in this group is increasing.

So do I have a solution? I think that a signature of all the declarations in the world is not enough; the lack of practice in my own country is obvious. The world needs something more to protect women’s rights and to see her as a human being with every right to all the parts of her body. Every time a violent act is carried out against a woman one must know that at the same time a deeper violation is taking place; the violation of the vulnerable, open minded and totally trustful child within oneself, that’s why women and children have so much in common. The key is to develop the man. He cannot go on thinking with a gun is his heart for the rest of his life. A man must give up his need of power and control then he can give himself to an act of love, instead of having a gun as his leading star.

I could talk about this all night it gets me so upset … but every inch of my energy and a total commitment in every case and every certificate I write to The Immigration Board. I could not sleep well if I didn’t know that I have tried all my best not letting anyone down… well that’s all for tonight from my corner.

Anna Sooth
Care for People