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Beliefs, Values and Practices

Impact of Migration

Barriers and Support

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Research Report

Similarities and Differences
in Attachment Beliefs, Values,
and Practices

The results of our research support our anecdotal program observation to indicate that there are similarities as well as differences in attachment beliefs, values, and practices amongst parents from different countries of origin. The discovery of similarities is not surprising as it is well accepted in attachment literature that the infant-caregiver attachment relationship, including children's need for responsive parents, and parents' desire for securely attached children, is universal. The specific attachment behaviours used by children to get the responses they need, and the attachment practices used by parents to promote secure attachment vary across cultures.

In order to understand the similarities and differences in attachment beliefs, values, and practices, it is important to look at: a. Factors that influence attachment beliefs, values and practices; b. Attachment beliefs and values; and c. Best Practices with respect to attachment.

  1. Factors that Influence Attachment Beliefs, Values, and Practices
  2. Attachment Beliefs and Values
  3. Best Practices with Respect to Attachment

Factors that Influence Attachment
Beliefs, Values, and Practices

In every country there is a diversity of cultural groups and within each cultural group, there is further differentiation. Even in countries where certain cultural groups are predominant, there may not be a consistent and uniform pattern of parenting or attachment. This diversity within each cultural group can be explained by the various factors that influence attachment beliefs, values and practices.

Parents who took part in the research identified a number of factors that influence attachment beliefs, values, and practices. We describe these below, and offer some preliminary observations on their program implications.

Parental Intuition

There is a component to parenting that many parents from different countries expressed as being instinctive. This component of parenting does not involve consulting other people, whether family or professionals, or literature.

This instinct is part of a definition of attachment offered in theoretical literature:

Attachment a reciprocal relationship between an infant and caregiver. Infants instinctively reach out to a caregiver for security and protection; caregivers instinctively protect and nurture infants. This mutual responsiveness is what creates the secure base for early development.

Parenting practices that are solely based on instinct, however, are not always reliable nor particularly open to change. In addition to following their instinct, parents spoke of learning parenting practices from a variety of other sources.

Learned Parenting Practices

Learned Parenting Practices refer to parenting practices that are learned informally or formally. Many parenting practices are learned informally through experience, family, friends, and community. Parents interviewed talked about informal learning as being the main method of learning about parenting in their countries of origin. Interviewees talked about learning from family, especially their parents. Many of them learned from experience at a young age, looking after younger siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, and then turned to family for advice when they began to have their own children.

Women who become new mothers after arriving in Canada express a feeling of being lost in terms of how to care for themselves and for their babies, because they do not have the same extent of opportunity to learn from the experience of their mothers, family and community members. They therefore have little confidence about their ability to parent. Mothers who arrive in Canada with children may have more confidence because they have been able to learn from their mothers, families, and communities, as well as from their own experience, prior to coming to Canada. Many mothers, whether their children are born in Canada or in their countries of origin, consciously or unconsciously mimic what they learn as children from their mothers, families and communities.

"I learned from my parents. I am teaching them what I saw my parents doing. I learned from my mum how to carry my child with a sling and sing to her."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Many mothers expressed a preference for this style of learning, that values experience over formal education, and the passing down of information verbally rather than in written format.

In the absence of traditional family support and support structures, mothers learn a lot from informally sharing their experiences with each other. Service providers consulted have discovered that peer support, including the provision of informal gathering places for mothers, is a particularly powerful format for learning. At the same time, some mothers recognize the limitations of informal learning. They recognize that although they may have children, they do not necessarily have responses for everything that might arise.

Formal learning is the learning that takes place in school, classes, from professionals, or from reading. Parents interviewed referred to formal learning as the main type of learning they experience in Canada. Many of them turn to formal learning because of the lack of informal support they have in Canada. For some of them, this style is not appropriate because of the extent of their experience, along with the difference in their experience or simply because the style of learning is foreign to them. They are used to seeking support on an ad-hoc basis from family and friends, whose knowledge is based on personal experience.

"The average parenting program is presented in English, is patronizing, and geared towards the middle-class mainstream Canadian population. It doesn't work for example for a woman from Sudan with six kids. She has a lot of experience."
(Service Provider, Halifax, NS)

But most immigrant and refugee mothers do need some support to replace the support they have lost through migrating to Canada, as well as to help them adjust to life as parents in Canada. Some mothers talked about learning how to care for and build relationships with their children from programs hosted by community-based agencies, and the crucial role agencies play as a replacement for families that are not there to support them.

"...we have no relatives and no cousins here...and the agency gives us lots of help and lots of confidence to take care of our babies...this is very helpful for us and gives our babies a better future. When they grow up, they will know more things and they will feel more comfortable to stay in Canada. The children and the mothers too."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Mothers talked about enjoying learning about parenting by reading in their country of origin, as well as in Canada. They like to have written information in the form of pamphlets, brochures or handouts, to refer to at a later date, so that they do not forget anything. Parents pointed out to us that the availability of information in their first language is particularly helpful.

Parents' Own Attachment History

Women who seek out services are almost always doing so in order to make changes in their lives. This is perhaps especially true in the area of parenting. While some mothers who participated in the research had very positive loving parents themselves whom they tried to emulate in raising their children, others talked about the challenges of leaving behind family histories of poor parenting.

"Care and love...the best example was my father - he represented something great for me. I said, he must come from a very great culture and country to be kind and loving and understanding, and he gave me confidence. So I loved him. I love him very much. Because he gave me love, he gave me care, he gave me attention."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Some of the mothers interviewed were abandoned by their parents and raised by grandparents and other relatives. Others were neglected and/or abused by their parents. Some referred to their parents practising excessive discipline and others to their parents not having any time for them. They also talked of their parents not showing affection to them, being overprotective of them, and not being involved in their school activities.

"What my parents did was not a model to be followed. Everything that my parents did was not good for me. For example, insulting me, abusing me emotionally and physically, and giving me low self-esteem."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Many of those mothers expressed the desire to avoid parenting in the same way as their parents did, a way that they recognized had been detrimental to them, despite the inherent challenges in doing so.

"It's an ongoing battle to fight that negativity. You try to be positive with your kids but it's hard because it's in you. You're fighting with what you grew up with."
(Program Participant, Montreal, QC)

Some mothers recognize the deeply ingrained negative patterns that affect the development of secure attachment with their children. They also recognize the progress they have made in overcoming these negative patterns. They emphasized the importance they placed on being there for their children, and showing their children affection, because they missed that themselves.

"When I was a child, I knew that my parents loved us, but they never showed us, never hugged us, never said, 'I love you'. You need to show that love to your children - pay attention to them, listen to them, give them a hug, tell them that you care about them."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Accepted Cultural and Societal Parenting Norms

Attachment practices are also influenced by what is considered acceptable in the environment in which parents and children live. Another way to understand this is that there is a dominant culture that is seldom questioned, based on who occupies positions of power in institutional and cultural life. People generally feel some extent of pressure, whether it is explicit or implicit, to conform to the dominant cultural norms.

For example, carrying babies in cloth slings is a common practice in many countries so it is comfortable for women to do so. Breastfeeding in public is also widely practised in many countries around the world, so women don't think twice about doing it. In Canada, however, those practices are not as common, so mothers talked of feeling uncomfortable, or being made to feel uncomfortable, carrying their babies in cloth slings, or breastfeeding in public.

"If I see that she is not happy, I put her on my back. At home I can do that. On the street here, the police stopped me. I explained that we do this in my country. She didn't want to understand me. At home it's normal."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Some mothers feel so strongly about the benefits of their cultural attachment practices that they continue to use them despite the fact that they are in an environment that does not support them.

"I was advised to stop breastfeeding at only 5 months old here because it is inconvenient to breastfeed on the bus and subway. I don't care about that. Back home, I did it until my children were 2 years old. Maybe people here feel embarrassed, but I don't."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)


Spiritual practice is strongly interwoven with most cultures of the world. While not every person understands the sacred in exactly the same way, and significant numbers of people around the world remain agnostic, many parents who participated in our research spoke of the important role spirituality and religion played in their parenting practices. Mothers talked specifically about keeping their culture alive by teaching their children their religious traditions.

"I want her to retain her culture and also to integrate somewhat into Canadian culture. I want her to keep my culture alive. Religion is very important to me."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers talked about the stress of living in a country as a religious minority, particularly if there was religious conflict in the country. They referred either to their experience in their country of origin, in a country they lived in en route to Canada, or within Canada. The stress they experience is related to a rejection of, or lack of support for their beliefs, values and practices in the larger society in which they live. For example, parents from the former Yugoslavia talked about the difficulty of staying in a country in the midst of ethnic conflict, largely based on religious differences, when their own families and communities had been of mixed ethnicity and religion.

Some Muslim parents, from various countries in Africa and Asia, talked about their religion dictating that they do not eat pork, consume drugs or alcohol, swear, fight, and for some of them, that they dress in a certain way. They try to transmit these values to their children. They find all of these things difficult to enforce, however, when their children are surrounded by peers who do not necessarily follow the same rules. Some mothers become more strict in order to ensure that cultural traditions are kept alive. Other mothers become more lenient about how their children dress because they do not want their children to be left out or singled out and harassed.

Low German speaking Mennonites from Mexico who were interviewed, talked about the intense conflict they felt. The way they speak of their particular situation exemplifies a dilemma facing many parents whom we serve in our agencies. They have been separated from mainstream culture both in Mexico and here in Canada. The consequences of not following religious dictates are high for them. They risk excommunication if they go against them. So, for most of them, their goals for their children involve wanting them to be good people, people who have a moral life and are not disobedient to their family, community, or church. At the same time, their children want to dress and do things like the majority of the children at their schools. And some mothers want them to have that freedom, in order for them to be comfortable and to be accepted in the wider community. They express the experience of a clash of cultures and their struggle to be both flexible and protective of aspects of their culture.

"I let them dress differently, much differently. Some people [in our community] here don't let them dress differently. Clothes won't do anything to your soul. If I knew what dress to wear to go to heaven, I would always want to wear that. They go to public school and they want to be dressed like others. I tell them, 'Your legs don't have to freeze - you can wear pants.' The way that people dress up doesn't mean anything to me. I would just like my kids to be warm. I had to go to school barefoot and walk on ice."
(Program Participant, Waterloo, ON)

A Muslim father from Algeria talked about his important role in teaching his religion to his children, and guiding them to follow the right path. He mentioned that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad regarding parent-child relationships are divided into seven- year periods.

"From birth to 7 years, parents are there only to play with their children. From 7-14 years of age, parents have to focus on teaching their children. From 14-21, parents are supposed to become friends with their children, and then after 21, parents should let children fly by themselves."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

A Muslim mother from Somalia talked about the emphasis of Islam on the parent-child connection.

"My religion is Muslim - the religion says that the parent-child connection is very important."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Parents from many countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe talked about the importance of the church in providing support to them and their children. Some referred to the support offered to them by the church in their countries of origin. Others talked of the support they get from their church in Canada. For some of them, their church gives them a sense of community within which they can be together as family, and through which they can access practical learning opportunities for their children.

While spiritual practice was felt to be core to a sense of community, the transmission of culture and a source of practical and moral guidance in childrearing, mothers from various countries talked about the challenge of going to various places of worship because of the changes in their lifestyle in Canada. Many of them no longer have time to attend services and some of them do not have access to places of worship for their particular religious following.

Understanding these fundamental shifts in priority, which are forced on those who are new to Canada, helps us to design more compassionate programs that give women space to share across cultures the religious practices they had in relation to their children prior to migration.

Generational Change

Along with the fact that there is diversity within cultural groups, it is important to recognize that all cultures are dynamic. Beliefs, values, and practices are not uniform or stagnant. There is always an influx of new ideas into any culture. And there is generational change in all cultures due to global changes in society and family environment. In addition, changes may accelerate in a new country when people are exposed to many new and different ideas, while the new country itself benefits from new ideas and opportunity for change.

"Things are changing even in our countries...If you were with your parents and some visitors, you sat quietly, we didn't get involved in a conversation. Now we actually encourage our children to become involved in a conversation as a part of the group they are in...I think we spend more time with the kids and encourage them to be more confident and to learn."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Mothers talked about the need to question traditions, rather than just accept them. Many mothers talked about keeping some traditional practices and adding new positive ones while living in Canada. During the process of migration and resettlement, as parents leave behind what is familiar to them and adjust to their new environment, they are forced to reflect on and evaluate the beliefs, values and practices they hold, as well as the new ones that they are exposed to. This enables them to decide what beliefs, values, and practices to hold onto, what to give up, and what to adopt.

Some parents talked specifically about keeping old practices and adopting new ones with the primary intention of benefiting their children.

"I take whatever is good for them - religion, tradition - along with the new things I've learned. Whatever is good, I take."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Some mothers recognize that although they may be adding new practices to the way they parent their children, they do not have the same amount of time as their mothers did to give their children love and attention.

It is important that as cross-cultural learning takes place in our agencies, we not fall into the trap of reducing all difference to a stereotyped idea of a given culture. All cultural groups are subject to social change, political movements, and upheaval. All cultural groups are also stratified along lines of class, race, and gender that make one individual experience and define her/his culture very differently from another..

Attachment Beliefs and Values

Although from a wide variety of countries of origin, and cultural groups, parents identified the common themes of respect, independence/interdependence, and freedom as being central to parenting.


Many interviewees brought up the issue of respect. Some felt that such respect was more valued - a more significant part of relationships between children and their parents, extended family, and community - in their countries of origin. This reflects the absence of the role of extended family and community in raising children in post World War II Central Europe and North America.

"Because you know in our country...it's not one person that really teaches you, it's the whole village. It's the whole village, everybody. You know, it involves everybody."
(Program Participant, Montreal, QC)

Children are expected to respect community members and to listen to their advice, regardless of whether or not they are their parents or relatives. Mothers talked about the difference in Canada, where if an adult instructs a child that is not their own to do or not to do something, with the child's best interests in mind, the child will just respond, "Don't tell me what to do. You're not my mother." Most parents interviewed see this as disrespect, as well as the child not benefiting from community parenting.

Some service providers who are immigrant parents themselves feel that one of the good things about Canada is that children are encouraged to have their own opinions, something that is sometimes mistaken for disrespect in their communities.

"One of the good things in Canada is that kids are encouraged to be independent, kids are allowed to talk back to parents. They are allowed to have their own opinion, choice. Many parents confuse talking back with disobedience. It is good to obey with understanding, not because of control. For children, having choice and being allowed to communicate is very important. A child talking back is not necessarily being rude, but just giving his/her opinion."
(Service Provider, Edmonton, AB)

The concern that mothers expressed regarding the respect shown to them by their children may also be related to the shift in power dynamic within a family when children are the only ones who speak English fluently, and therefore act as the family 'gatekeepers' of information.

"There is a role reversal. Children speak English and their parents don't. Children have control over family dynamics because they have the information."
(Service Provider, Vancouver, BC)

Respect was seen as something that must flow both ways in the parenting relationship.

"Love is very important in the family. You have to work together and if you have problems, to have meetings. I think children and parents are equal. Not like control. You control me and I control you. Just equal and friends. Friendship is also important."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers talked of teaching their children the importance of respect for all people, using this as a jumping off point for helping their children understand equality in society and respect for human rights.

"I teach my children to respect somebody whatever, how the person is. Small, big, or rich or poor...A human being is a human being."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

"It's a better chance for them to have a good, well-recognized education and also when they grow to have their democratic rights. Because humans are respected here in Canada. Their rights. If you are a child, if you are a man or a woman, you belong to whatever ethnic group, you belong to whatever colour. So this is a dreamland which we hope will work out for our children."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Other mothers expressed the regret that the same respect and rights that they struggled to teach their children are sometimes not afforded them as newcomer parents in Canada.

"Somehow I find the Western World doesn't respect our ways of parenting...and we have brains too. I believe that they should respect our culture and we should respect their culture...We should get respect from Social Services. When they have to come in, they should respect our culture...When you are loving parents and you are doing what is right, even though it's not the Canadian way, I think it should be respected."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)


The value placed on community parenting in many countries outside of North America is based on a fundamental difference in perspective regarding the importance of independence. Some parents interviewed feel that there is too much of a focus on independence in Canada, especially for young children. In Canada, most children sleep on their own from the time of birth, attend daycare soon after, and are encouraged to feed themselves and dress themselves from a very young age. In many other countries families often encourage their children to be dependent on them, to teach them the value of the interdependence of family and community members.

"Latin American parents want to protect their children and for them to be dependent on them. Canadian parents want their kids to be independent. My children suffer because of the different ways. In Canada, people stay alone. I emphasize to my son that he's not alone. I am there for him."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

This difference in perspective on the independence of children causes anxiety and confusion, and parents reminded us that each child has their own path and needs to do what s/he is ready for, rather than merely to fulfil the expectations that parents and society impose on them.

"My oldest is two and a half so I don't think that he's old enough to do what he's expected to do here...but here I find that people are trying to do everything. You have to be toilet trained by three, you have to go to bed alone...It might work for some children, but I don't want that for my kids. I want them to be able to do what they want within reasonable limits."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Mothers talked of their fear of the future impact of the emphasis on independence in Canada. They are worried about their children leaving home at what they consider a very young age. In many countries outside of North America, children do not leave home until they are married, because family members are thought of as interdependent. And this interdependence is considered a prerequisite for health.

"...in our country, family bonding is very strong because most of the time we live together or at least close by, different houses, visiting every house... We don't feel like when you're 17 years old, you're on your own. We don't feel that way. [You're] not on your own. We feel like you have family - father, mother, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, those things, cousins."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many parents felt that there was not as much value placed on the relationship of children to their family and community in Canada as in their countries of origin. In their countries of origin, family, extended family, and community play a critical role in child development. Each person is thought to have something different and important to teach children. And the bond between a child and each member of the family and community is considered to be critical to the child's development.
This extended family role is particularly important when learning cultural values and practices is considered to be an important part of child development. Children are taught values important to their families and communities and are given an understanding of where they come from and where they belong.


Many parents brought up the differences in the degree of freedom for parents and children between Canada and their countries of origin. Parents from different countries expressed varying perspectives of these differences.

Some parents feel that there is too much freedom for children in Canada. They feel that in Canada, children leave home at a very young age to live on their own, and they are groomed to do so, from an even younger age. In many other countries, children don't leave home until they are married, and while they are at home, they don't have as much freedom to make decisions for themselves.

"[In Canada] your teenagers also they are free. If you restrict them, they can walk out of the house and rent their own house. In our culture, a child, whether he is an adult, even if he stays until 25 years, 30 years, if he is not married, he will stay with his parents. Only when he gets married, he leaves the house. But here, if you are unfair with your 16 year old child, if he is feeling threatened, he will leave and go outside...I don't like it. I want to have full control of my kids."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Giving less freedom to their children, is often connected to mothers' own feelings of freedom.

"Sometimes I feel like I am totally overprotecting them. Sometimes I need a little bit of freedom you know to do my own thing and to relax. Sometimes I want to be alone."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Other parents feel that there is less freedom for both children and parents in Canada than in their countries of origin. In Canada, children do not have the freedom to go outside to play unattended, and parents don't have the freedom of time to themselves while other family members, or neighbours look after their children.

"There is more freedom there because of the weather and my family. The weather is better so children have the freedom to play outside. And I would have more time to myself because of family support."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some mothers feel that there is more freedom in Canada - parents have the freedom to parent in the way that they feel is best, and children are given the freedom to learn and develop rather than simply being told what to do and what not to do.

"In Canada this is very good...you let the kids develop, be free. But in our own country, mothers just tell the kid 'Just listen to me...I ask you to do this so you have to do this. No you cannot say no. Just do what I ask you to do."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Other mothers referred specifically to the greater freedom for women and children in Canada than in their countries of origin.

"Canada is much better for me. It is better for the future of my kids. There is freedom for women here and for children."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Freedom of expression was also mentioned as an important part of feeling at home in Canada.

"To me home is happiness, roots, warmth, comfort and security and mostly...freedom of expression."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Best Practices with Respect to Attachment

Because attachment involves the establishment of a deep and enduring connection between a child and the child's mother, family, or community member in the early years of life, it profoundly influences every component of a child's development.

Attachment practices are those practices that parents use to develop a deep and lasting connection with their child, and to respond to their infant's attachment behaviours.

Best practices in promoting secure attachment between children and their mothers, family or community members, include practices that encourage the emotional, cognitive, motor, language, and social development of children aged 0-5. When children are securely attached, they can devote their resources and energy to healthy development.
Most parents choose to raise their children according to the long-term development goals they have for them, balancing what they view as culturally appropriate with what is both possible and seen as appropriate in the environment they live in. It is particularly challenging for parents when what they have learned is culturally appropriate comes into conflict with what is considered culturally appropriate in the environment they live in. This is why the emphasis on cross-cultural best practices is so important in programming. It gives all parents, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, some guidance on what practices to continue and which to change in order to promote the healthy development of their children.
The use of particular practices to build relationships with and to respond to children's needs is based on parental beliefs and values, and the factors that influence these beliefs and values. As discussed in the previous section, parental beliefs, values and practices are influenced by parental intuition, learned parenting practices, parents' own attachment history, accepted cultural and societal parenting norms, socioeconomic status, religion, and generational change.

There are a wide variety of attachment practices that encourage the development of children aged 0-5. Some practices that differ from the North American norm can be especially beneficial to children's development, and should be considered as examples to be promoted to all parents. It is important to promote 'best practices' used by parents and families from around the world, in order to broaden attachment practices and parenting knowledge amongst all the parents we serve.
It is difficult to separate best practices into distinct categories because many have multiple benefits addressing different types of development and different stages of development.

For the purposes of this toolkit, we have chosen categories based on the way parents described their strategies for promoting secure attachment, as well as what we thought would be most useful to service providers. The categories are as follows: feeding practices, carrying practices, sleeping practices, touch and showing affection, reading and singing practices, listening practices, playing practices, and teaching practices.

Feeding Practices

The role of caregivers, particularly mothers, in feeding their children was talked about frequently. Mothers talked about the importance of their role in breast feeding their children, as well as in preparing food for and feeding their older children. Breast feeding children, feeding solid food to infants, feeding children healthy food, and preparing older children's favourite foods, were described as ways of showing love to them, and caring for their physical and emotional needs.

"And even when he was small, even though I was working, I breast-fed him. With all my children. Even though I was working...a regular job, eight hours, when I came back, the first thing I did, I just breast-fed my kids. So, because we brought them to life, we have to be responsible for them."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

The word 'feed' was also used to describe other aspects of parents' roles in raising children: feeding children with knowledge, feeding children with love, feeding children materially, and feeding children spiritually.

"You can feed a child materially, give him whatever, give him a good life, a better life, a secure life, whatever. You're filling up the outside. But the spiritual life...it's a must. It's either I am, or I am not.You can feed a child materially, give him whatever, give him a good life, a better life, a secure life, whatever. You're filling up the outside. But the spiritual life...it's a must. It's either I am, or I am not."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

The importance of extended family support in feeding children in all these ways was stressed by many parents. Many of them talked about the presence of such support in their countries of origin, and the lack of such support in Canada, because of their separation from their families. Many mothers talked specifically about the postpartum support offered by extended family and the community, in their countries of origin.

"...me, my mother, my other brother, and then my brother who's now a father, and his wife, and her whole family, her two sisters, her mother, her father, so really a lot of people. And even though there were so many of us, there was enough to do. You know, when the baby is newborn and the mother has to be feeding her every hour."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Parents emphasized the need for support from other people with experience.

"I got advice on breastfeeding from my mom, or maybe a friend. Of course someone that has had kids. Because they have already gone through that, so they would know."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

A mother from Somalia talked about the importance to her of feeding her children with her hand. She feels that they eat better when she does that. It makes sense that it is easier to be responsive to a child's needs with more physical contact with the child - this contact results in increased attentiveness to the child. The woman recognizes that at school, her children have to feed themselves, so she teaches them both ways. She also emphasized the importance of the whole family eating together on the floor or at the table. Feeding and eating time is a time to build family relationships.

"She's growing with my hand feeding her. She eats well when I feed her, not when she eats herself. When I put my son in a highchair, and put food in front of him, he doesn't eat. I don't know if he's had enough. In my lap, when I feed him with my hand, he eats well. I feel like he's eaten well, eaten enough."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)

Carrying Practices

One of the effective attachment practices that mothers from different countries talked about during interviews is carrying and holding their children, particularly their babies and infants. One couple who were interviewed talked about carrying and holding their 4 month old baby in their arms while walking and talking to him, as a way to calm and soothe him.

Other participants, primarily from countries in East and West Africa, talked about carrying babies and infants in slings on their backs as a general practice that is responsible for attachment. There is an understanding amongst these mothers of the potential for physical closeness to promote emotional closeness. The practice is often combined with singing.

"When you are a small kid, maybe they sing for you, most of the time they just carry you around. They carry you around...just sing for you and carry you around. Like in my country, they have a special way of carrying you around...on the back. So, maybe that's what made kids more close...they are close all the time with their mom."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

There is also recognition of the importance of carrying children in promoting secure attachment by responding to a child's distress. Some mothers described carrying children in slings as a specific practice used to soothe infants.

"When my two month old is crying, I hold him on my back and sing to him in my language. I do this while I'm cooking and doing other things. He knows and he's quiet."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)

Sleeping Practices

Mothers who were interviewed talked about attachment practices connected to sleep.

Some talked about specific activities they do with their children, focussing their attention on them, before they go to sleep.

"Before sleeping, I read them stories, speak with them, play with them."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Many also talked about sleeping with their children, as one effective attachment practice that they have retained in resettling in Canada. Some specifically talked about the positive feelings associated with sleeping with their young children, and the resulting positive effect on their relationships with their children.

"My 2 month old and 4 year old sleep with my husband and me. Having a child sleeping with you is a nice, gentle, good feeling. Here kids and parents sleep separately. There is no problem with my 2 little ones sleeping with me, and it promotes the relationship between a child and parent."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Mothers interviewed for the project show a clear and thoughtful understanding of the relationship between early attachment and sleep and nighttime routines. Their sense of difference from the mainstream in this regard is focused on the choice of sleeping in the same bed as their young children. This area of cultural practice can become loaded with anxiety and misunderstanding across cultural difference. Promoting understanding and non-judgmental sharing may free up some room for all program participants to benefit from a variety of practices.

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)

Touch and Showing Affection

Touch was mentioned by many parents as an important attachment practice for them. Some talked of the importance of touch in the families they grew up in.

"I grew up with lots of touch in my family - you always hug, you always kiss, you're always in contact, physical contact, all the time."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Some mothers talked about the lack of verbal or physical affection in their upbringing.

"When I was a child, I knew that my parents loved us, but they never showed us, never hugged us, never said 'I love you.'...You need to show that you love your children."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers were only shown love by one parent.

"My mother was strong, she gave her life for us but didn't show us love. My father was expressive...What I show my kids comes from my father. The love he gave me is born again."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Whether or not they grew up being with touch and physical affection in their family, many of them talked about the importance of touch in their relationships with their children.

"Hugging and kissing my child many times a day makes me happy."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Some talked about learning in Canada about the importance of demonstrating and expressing affection.

"I learned from Canadians to hug and kiss them and say 'I love you'. That is the only way to let them know, understand that I love them. They hug, kiss me back and say 'I love you too.' "
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Others talked about feeling that physical affection is not as accepted in Canada as in their countries of origin.

"In my country, children are held - you go to them and soothe them. I was told here to leave them. It tore me apart."
(Program Participant, Fredericton, NB)

Some parents spoke specifically about learning about the importance of and the techniques of infant massage in their countries of origin, and then practicing infant massage with their infants in Canada.

"I learned from my mother about the importance of massaging my baby once a day until he is one month old. So, I am massaging him every day."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

One mother talked about using massage as a way of responding to her children when they are sick.

"When they are sick I hug and massage them. I never say 'You have to take this medicine and sleep.' They feel it. I do it because it's my responsibility as parent. I feel the connection."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Nearly all the parents we spoke to recognized the need for safe and soothing touch to be a building block in their child's development. This was also true for parents who have not experienced safe touch themselves - those who were either abused as children or who did not experience touch at all. A significant number of mothers spoke of a tradition of infant massage, an attachment practice which has a long history in many countries, and which is only beginning to be promoted as a best practice in North America.

Factsheets: (available for download in pdf format)

Reading and Singing

Most of the mothers who were interviewed mentioned reading as an important attachment practice. One mother talked of initiating this practice during pregnancy.

"I started reading to him when he was in my tummy."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some mothers talked of encouraging their children to read in order to soothe them when they are upset.

"Even when he's upset, I just tell him to read a book and he's happy."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many mothers who were interviewed stressed the importance of reading and singing to their children in their family's mother tongue in order to pass on their cultural identity to their children, to teach them cultural values, as well as to teach them language skills.

"So I spend time with them evenings, and I'm teaching them their language. They have to speak it at home. We have cassettes, songs in their language and all these things. And we listen to all those things so the kids do not forget their language too."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

"So, because we brought them to life, we have to be responsible for them. Everything. We have to give them love, attention. Discipline also. And the language...because it's very good to be bilingual. And also to understand me. Because learning the language is learning the culture. So if I don't teach him, after ten years he'll say 'Mum, what are you saying? What are you doing?!' No. He has to be a copy of me. Of what we are."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

These practices become especially important for parents who want to retain aspects of their culture, and pass on their cultural identity to their children in an environment different from the one in which they were raised. Many mothers have developed innovative strategies to encourage their children to use their mother tongue.

"We try to speak Chinese with them at home. And I'm not worried about them picking up English. They will pick up English...when they start school, have friends...But I'm worried about them losing the Chinese language. They can understand but they are too shy to speak because they know they have an English accent...So I have to encourage them to speak. I try to use a better way, or to make it interesting because they don't get to use Chinese here, especially in Halifax...And I try to give them some Chinese movie, Chinese book. I tell them the beginning of a story and they have to read a book in Chinese to know the ending. This will encourage them to read the book by themselves, if they want to know the ending of the story. I can't just force them to do exercises like in school because I don't want them to lose interest."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

In addition to promoting the learning of their first language and culture, mothers talked of the importance of telling stories that reflect their families' experiences in migration and resettlement. Telling such stories promotes children's attachment with their extended family, who are part of their lives, whether or not they are able to see them on a regular basis.

"But a lot of time still I spend with my children. Like my daughter, everyday I tell her, I show her the pictures, this is my father, my sister, they live in Africa. They speak French, they speak Swahili. You must know because when you go there, you must speak to my father. He doesn't know English. Sometimes I call my father and she talks to him back in Swahili, great. And she asks me 'Mum, when will we go to see your Daddy? I'd like to see your sister."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Mothers also sing songs in their first languages that reflect their families' values, particularly the importance of their children's relationships with their extended family. Mothers often sing specific songs intended for children, and songs for specific purposes (e.g. soothing their children, putting their children to sleep, playing with their children).

"I sing songs from home, play cassettes from home. I sing in Ewe, my dialect. I would like her to understand my dialect. I read books from my country to her, stories in Ewe. I sing songs from church, from our culture, that are especially for children. Some are from family celebrations such as weddings. If she cries, I sing a special song. 'I am with you, don't cry. Your father is coming, don't cry. You have grandparents in Togo, don't cry. You have aunts and uncles in Togo, don't cry...' "
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)


Many mothers talked of the importance of listening to their children in order to develop relationships with them, and to demonstrate their love for them. Some mothers referred specifically to the importance of active listening.

"I make sure that I actively listen. Communication is key."
(Program Participant, Montreal, QC)

Some mothers mentioned the particular importance of listening to their children when they have problems.

"I listen to them, to their grievances, to their feelings."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

For some mothers, the importance of listening to their children is highlighted by their children's efforts to communicate their need for attention.

"My daughter, she always says, 'Look at me. Look at me.' Today, it was so funny - she was talking to me, and I said, 'Mm-hmm'. And she said: 'Mummy, please talk to me.' I said, 'Okay. What do you want me to say?' But they need that attention from you. They say 'You're not listening to me, are you?' "
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

"I'm going to add I think from my own experience love and care and also to listen to your child. Because I have older children...and one time I was fighting with my eldest son and he told me, 'You are an excellent mother but sometimes you don't listen to me.' And he put the blame on me. So you have to be careful. Sometimes you are in a rush to go to the office or something...he's fighting with his brother and you think 'okay, okay'...and you rush to your office. And then he tells me 'Mum you didn't listen to me and that was hurting me.' But to listen to your child, giving him time, is very important."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Some mothers talked about listening as a component of spending quality time with their children, and thus promoting secure attachment.

"I think being with them is one of the - it is not only being with them because sometimes it's not the time, it's the quality of the time you spend with them and living for them, you know. I'm trying to do what I have to do; going places for the children, doing things before they get home, because I want to take the time to ask them, when they come home from school, 'How was your day? Did you have any problems?' and listen to them, and discuss with them, you know, if something is wrong. Guide them..., and because I understand them they are very attached to me."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Mothers from a variety of backgrounds spoke clearly of listening as a cornerstone of building a relationship with their children, and were equally clear that a stressed and hurried lifestyle is not supportive of their desire to listen well to their children.

Playing Practices

Many mothers identified playing as one of the attachment practices they use.

"I play with them - whatever they want to do."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

Mothers use the word 'play' to refer to many different activities.

"I spend time with them drawing, painting, reading, playing with dolls, coffee cups, balloons, and balls."
(Program Participant, Calgary, AB)

The most important aspect of playing with their children is the quality time they spend with them, and the attention they give to them.

"We do crafts, play games together, watch TV together, go to the park together. I make sure that in every day I have my quality time to do one-on-one or one-on-three with them, and I am not in the kitchen, and they are behind me playing on the table, and actually I am doing nothing."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers talk specifically of sacrificing the need to do housework, in order to spend quality time with their children.

"Your children will never remember how clean your house is, but they will remember how much you played with them."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Others recognize the importance of parents playing with children because of their families' migration experience, which often entails the loss of family, especially the separation from or limited interaction with one parent. In addition, children often do not have the opportunity to play with other children in the same way they would in their countries of origin. Mothers fill the empty space within their children by playing with them.

Mothers described the challenge of fulfilling the role of playmate both because of other responsibilities and because they are not accustomed to it. It is a role that they have not learned from their own experience or from the environment they grew up in. It is a role that may not be accepted within their cultural community.

"Trying to act younger is considered a bad thing there. When I came here, I didn't know that I was supposed to play with him. He was one and a half years old and he wanted me to sing to him. The speech therapist asked me, 'Do you read to him?' I said, 'No. It was never done to me.' There, children play with other children. Here, I was the only one who could play with him. It was so embarrassing for me to act like a child. I saw other parents here playing with kids in park, and seeing that he didn't have friends and thought that he was alone was so painful for me, that I started to play with him. But in the beginning it was very hard for me to act like a child. That is a huge difference between there and here."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Other mothers did learn the importance of their role as playmate from experience.

"From birth to seven years, parents' role is only to play with their children. I sit and play with them and they love it."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Mothers talked about taking advantage of the space, activities, and resources of drop-in-centres.

"When they were small I was in drop-in centres every day with them, every day, because I was living in a one bedroom apartment. I didn't have space for them over there...so I was with the kids in drop-in centres every day, and they have some beautiful activities in there. So I was doing crafts with them. I was playing with them in the summer. They planned so many activities too, so we were on the beach together, and not only with my kids, they were always with different kids too. That is important for them to grow and develop."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Working-class mothers, whether before or after immigration, struggle to practise what they know to be good attachment behaviours due to lack of time and resources. Some have to overcome multi-generational stresses of this nature, while for others passing down their own experiences of play time between parents and children simply requires access to resources.

Teaching Practices

Teaching is another attachment practice that was talked about by many mothers. The important role of teachers in children's lives, was emphasized by most parents.

"I tell them that they should always respect parents and teachers. They show us the way."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many mothers recognized the importance of starting to teach their children when they are young.

"If you start when they are little, as they are right now, it's going to be easier for you. Because like myself, I teach my daughter. She's only three and a half, but she understands. They understand..."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

The fathers interviewed also identified teaching as one of their parenting roles, although some didn't recognize that they could have this role even with very young children.

"I help them to study and learn. My wife helps them in learning, looks after them. She's really busy with them, especially the baby."
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Some mothers talked about teaching their children specific skills to prepare them for school.

"I'm teaching my son to write before starting Kindergarten in September."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Parents often place additional importance on their role as teachers because their children will be starting school in a new country, and often in a new language.

"I'm teaching my daughter English. I push her to study English. Teaching her English is very important because mainstream society here speaks English, and all courses in school are taught in English. English is the first step. I am not a good father because I can't make my daughter learn English. I wish someone would help me but no one will. "
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Some mothers see their teaching role in broader terms. They teach their children their first language, their culture, and their family history (see section Reading and Singing for more information).

"If you start talking to them in your own language, it's a way of teaching them that there is another home."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

"Well, I teach her about my country, everything, and if she has homework, I need to help...I teach her about Canadian culture, my culture, the differences. We talk about that. I explain to her. I talk to her in my language. We watch videos from my country."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Many mothers stress the importance of teaching their children ethics, morals, and values, especially when they feel that their values are not supported in the mainstream Canadian culture that their children are exposed to. For some, this involves teaching their children how to communicate with other people.

"I teach him my ethics...When guests come, how to receive them. When he greets people. Don't say 'hi' and just go in. No. I want them to say it politely, nicely, and to be involved with the people. To offer them something. Even if I'm not at home. I tell them 'Did you offer them juice? Did you ask them to sit?' Because this is my culture. They can't say to them, 'My mother's not here,' and just close the door. I don't like this culture. I don't know how Canadians do it. But I want them to be positive, to be the way I am. So I feel the mothers have all the burden to teach the kids all the ethics..."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Fathers also see this as an important role for them, because of the cultural importance placed on 'manners'.

"I guide them to follow the right path. In our culture there is a proverb, 'The nations are the manners. If the manners are gone, the nation is gone.' "
(Program Participant, Hamilton, ON)

Some mothers teach their children to be good people, to focus on their education and careers, and to be good parents.

"I want them to be good people, like I guess any other parent would want. I want them to be good people, by teaching them what is right and wrong...I tell them that it is also very important for them to study and have a career, not to be dependent on someone. Just go to school, study, get a career...I want them to have a good future, to have their own families and be happy. And to be good parents also."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Some mothers focus on teaching their children to be independent (See section Independence/Interdependence for more information). Others teach their children how to best fulfill their roles within their communities.

"I teach them when they are growing up how they can live in the community and help people."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

One mother talked of teaching her children about the importance of parent-child attachment.

"I teach them the connection between parents and children."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Some mothers talked of teaching their children the value of openness to other cultures.

"Well I don't...I'm not teaching them to be...I don't know, picky about other cultures. Just to accept people not because of what they see from the outside but what they're like inside. Not the culture, not the country, not...whatever. I don't want them to be like that. To say, 'Oh we don't like these people because they're from such culture. I don't like that because we haven't raised them that way."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

Many mothers expressed difficulty in fulfilling their role as teacher of language, values, religion, and cultural traditions - a role that they are used to sharing with other family and community members, in their countries of origin.

"...sometimes I'm very 'dictative' to them. And I don't like that. But I find myself...it's worse in Canada because I have to instruct them about everything. About values and religion and culture and language. It's too much. I have to be a teacher the whole day."
(Program Participant, Halifax, NS)

Some mothers teach their children what their parents, family and community members taught them.

"We teach them the way that we have been taught."
(Program Participant, Waterloo, ON)

Other mothers make an effort to focus more on teaching than their parents did.

"My mother had 6 children. She didn't have the time to teach us. I just have one child. I take the time to teach him."
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

Some mothers described the struggle involved in teaching some values that differ from mainstream Canadian culture.

"So how can I teach my children this is not our culture. It's very hard. And I don't know how we can solve this problem."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

Some mothers specifically use resources from their countries of origin as one strategy of teaching their children in the way that they were taught.

"I teach my kids at home from books I brought from India."
(Calgary, AB)

Many mothers talk of the importance of teaching their children both their traditions as well as what they need to be accepted in mainstream Canadian society.

"I teach them both ways - I tell them, 'When you are at home, I feed you. When you go to school, you feed yourself.'"
(Program Participant, Vancouver, BC)

They talked of the importance of passing on their knowledge and experience - a combination of that learned in their country of origin and that learned in Canada.

"You have to teach them responsibility. You've got to teach them by example from what you learned as a child and how you grew up as well as what you have learned since you came to Canada..."
(Program Participant, Edmonton, AB)

One couple play a role reversal game to teach and encourage their children.

"We tell them 'Ok we are students, you are the teacher.' We tell them, 'You are very able. You have a lot of information. You are very smart. You are an expert, very intelligent. You are the teacher."
(Program Participant, Toronto, ON)

As this last parent points out, teaching and learning are continuously exchanged roles in the parent-child relationship. Parents who are struggling to be teachers of a culture no longer dominant in their child's world have greater pressures on them to impart things few other structures around them reinforce. Children who are growing up in a culture new to their parents are often the teachers of this new world's values and customs to their families. This universal attachment behaviour has different challenges and formats due specifically to the experience of migration and resettlement.

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