DOI: 10.1111/fare.12985 ISSN: 0197-6664

Conceptual review of symbolic cultural practices in children's racial/ethnic identity: Making room for mixed methods inquiry

Amber B. Sansbury, Megan G. Stutesman, Divya Varier
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Education



Children are shaped by familial, cultural, societal, and environmental factors that impact development across multiple domains, contexts, and ecological systems. This conceptual review examines studies that address how symbolic cultural practices shape racial/ethnic identity development in early childhood (ages 3–6).


Twelve key extant studies across qualitative (n = 4), quantitative (n = 5), and mixed (n = 3) methodological approaches that concern the use of symbolic cultural practices for early childhood racial/ethnic identity development were reviewed. Our review adopted an interdisciplinary approach, bringing perspectives from developmental psychology, family science, research methods, and education policy. We oriented our review to address the contributions of symbolic cultural practices to children's hope and happiness undergirded by their racial/ethnic identity development.


Studies across all methodological disciplines were useful in moving the field forward however, we argue that mixed methods studies are particularly consequential due to their ability to account for the highly contextualized experiences of healthy early childhood racial/ethnic socialization via symbolic cultural practices.


We also suggest that mixed methods lend more holistic explanations of connections between early childhood racial/ethnic socialization and symbolic cultural practices and promote mixed methods approaches as the most promising way to investigate the role of symbols in positive racial/ethnic socialization and identity development of young children in future research.


Henceforth, we suggest that practitioners' understanding of the racial and ethnic identities of young children will be more holistic when approached from a mixed methods lens, and therefore, practitioner–child interactions will be more constructive.

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