Child-Rearing Practices

Being aware of and integrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child-rearing practices helps children and families feel that they belong, and supports important cultural practices.

Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child-rearing strategies, and embracing the importance of these practices, is absolutely crucial in ensuring continuity for children between home and early learning services.

There is no one way in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people raise their children, and families may draw upon child-rearing practices from a range of cultures. The child rearing practices of any one culture are no more valuable than those of another.In Aboriginal culture the extended family plays a crucial role in raising children.

“Child rearing…is literally a family and community concern and is not confined solely to the parents of the child”

Unlike the wider Australian society, the whole Aboriginal community contributes to raising the child, giving mutual assistance and support to the parents.

The mother is the main carer for the child, but aunties, uncles, cousins and older siblings share the responsibilities for caring and raising the child as well (in some communities the mother’s sisters or the father’s brothers are also called ‘mum’ and ‘dad’).

Grandparents are very important people in the life of Aboriginal children. They often fill the role of boss or protector for the children. They have real authority over their upbringing, and they teach them Aboriginal culture, values and beliefs.

Displaying an understanding of a child’s relationship to his/her kinship circle helps foster continuity and normality for the child, providing an ideal environment for development and learning.

An appreciation of learning practices is also vital in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child-rearing practices and accommodating the independent learning of the child.

The first thing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children learn from an early age is whom they are related to. And as they get older their peer group becomes an important part of their learning. The children in this group are usually related to one another (as well there are some outside their kinship structure) and they spend most of their time together, playing and caring for each other, almost without adult supervision.

In fact, in Aboriginal culture, it is normal or okay for adults to not interfere in the child’s activities (unless it is necessary). By not placing too many restrictions or guidelines on children’s play and exploration, adults expose the child to controlled dangers so that he/she can experiment and learn through risk taking. Within the peer group the child is so able to test his/her independence and develop within a caring structure.

It is from the interactions with peer groups and adults that the child learns how to behave.

Instead of telling the children how to behave or punishing them for misbehaving, discipline is commonly taught through humour, teasing and surprised responses, and sometimes even the use of scary beings.

“…it is expected that the children through trial and error and observation over a period of years will recognise what is expected of them and in so doing develop their own control.”