Parent conversations about racial and ethnic heritage promote young children’s social competence study by MSU HDFS Dr. Yijie Wang reveals

December 6, 2022 - Katie Nicpon

A new study by Dr. Yijie Wang suggests that children grow up with more positive feelings and pride around their racial or ethnic heritage when their parents talk about their heritage. Dr. Wang is an associate professor in the MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Social Science.

“Our study shows that it is important to talk to your children about racial/ethnic heritage starting when children are young,” she said. “It may be an important factor that helps young children feel good about themselves and be socially competent – from both parents and teachers’ perspectives. These practices are particularly important if your child goes to a diverse school but there are a relatively limited proportion of children who share the same racial/ethnic heritage with your child, or if you live in a diverse neighborhood with relatively fewer co-ethnics.”

Her study, “Family cultural socialization in childhood: Navigating ethnic/racial diversity and numeric marginalization in school and neighborhood settings” was recently published in the American Psychology Association’s Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology issue and selected as editor’s choice. 

“Our findings showed that families practiced more cultural socialization when their children are in diverse schools and neighborhoods,” Dr. Wang said. “Additionally, family cultural socialization was more promotive for children’s social competence in diverse settings with few co-ethnics.”

Cultural socialization is a process in racial/ethnic minority families that refers to parents’ efforts to talk to their children about their heritage, and it promotes feelings of pride towards their racial/ethnic groups. 

“Having pride, positive feelings towards one’s racial/ethnic heritage and group is particularly important for our next generation as they navigate the challenges associated with prejudice and racism,” Dr. Wang said. 

In this study, Wang combined two nationally representative samples of children, from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 and 2010–11 cohorts, with an average age of between 5-6 years old. For the study, they asked two research questions:  do parents practice cultural socialization differently depending on the school and neighborhood contexts their children are in; and do parents’ cultural socialization practices influence their children’s social competence one year later, and how do these influences vary depending on the school and neighborhood contexts their children are in. They assessed children’s social competence from both parent and teacher reports, to ensure the robustness of the data. The school and neighborhood contexts are also from school administrator’s reports and geocode data, respectively, so they are relatively objective measures of children’s environment. 

“The study uses national data to show that family cultural socialization matters for young children’s social competence, and that it is important to consider the larger social environment when studying family cultural socialization,” she said. “Previous research has primarily focused on the benefits of family cultural socialization for adolescents. Our study highlights its importance for children as young as 5-6 years old.”

To read the full study in the APA, visit