Kids Play Within Their Ethnic Groups, but Make Others Welcome

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers

ethnic group

Children are willing to make accommodations to let insiders into their group. Credit: Getty Images

"A boy like that will give you sorrow. You'll meet another boy tomorrow. One of your own kind. Stick to your own kind." (Anita to Maria in "West Side Story")

There are still more Anitas in the world than Marias. Left on their own, children really do stick to their "own kind."

However, researchers in Canada also found that what could be called the Maria Factor cannot be discounted. Children are willing to make accommodations to let insiders into their group.

The Montreal Gazette reports researchers from Concordia University and the University of Montreal set out to see if kids naturally gravitate toward others from their same ethnic background. Turns out, they do.

Researchers observed French-Canadian and Asian children between the ages of 3 and 5 and the amount of "social" versus "solitary" play they engaged in when they were paired with a partner from either the same ethnic group or a different background. The kids were matched for 20 minutes in each session in a room separate from the main classroom.

The Gazette reports kids tended to play together more with partners from their own ethnic groups.

Nadine Girouard, a research associate with Concordia's psychology department, tells the Gazette such differences between social and solitary were in line with previous research showing children prefer playmates similar to themselves.

However, she adds, the important point to remember from this study is that kids adapted their play to make kids from other ethnic backgrounds more comfortable.

"During the same-ethnic interactions, Asian Canadians speak less during their interactions compared to the French Canadians, who are speaking more," Girouard tells the Gazette. "But during the cross-ethnic interactions, Asian Canadians speak more to French Canadians."

In turn, the Gazette reports, French-Canadian children used more nonverbal communication, such as presenting a toy, when interacting with Asian children. Nonverbal cues were seen more often among Asian children when playing together.

"This is very interesting because it shows that at the preschool age what is most important to the children is to play together," Girouard tells the newspaper. "Even if they may have a preference for same-ethnic interaction, they still want to play together. And to do that, they adapt their behavior."

A lesson there for all of us?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.