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ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS

Authors:

Abstract

Children’s ethnic-racial identity formation is a critical aspect of their development and has implications across the lifespan. However, there has been limited attention to children’s ethnic-racial identity formation, especially among young children of color. This paper provides the current evidence of ethnic-racial identity formation in the early years (ages 0-8). Guided by the literature primarily focused on older age youth, there is growing evidence of the importance of ethnic-racial identity for young children’s cognitive and social-emotional development, school engagement and success. The early years are a sensitive period for the formation of positive ethnic-racial identification because it is during these years that personality is first formed, so this is an opportunity to grow the evidence and, more importantly, include it as a critical outcome for children’s healthy development and an area for inclusion on national, state, and local indicators of child well-being and worthy of intervention and support. In addition to noting gaps and opportunities for innovation, we call on the need for a cohesive infrastructure, such as a research-practice partnership, focused on developing and implementing a plan that strengthens the research evidence while also integrating ethnic-racial identity and factors that support this outcome in quality rating systems and standards and professional development systems.
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY
FORMATION IN THE
EARLY YEARS
Iheoma U. Iruka1, Stephanie M. Curenton2,
Jacqueline Sims2, Keshia Harris2, and Nneka
Ibekwe-Okafor2
Revised: May 13, 2021
1 Department of Public Policy and Equity
Research Action Coalition at Frank Porter
Graham Child Development Institute, The
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
2 Center on the Ecology of Early Development,
Wheelock College of Education & Human
Development, Boston University
Suggested Citation. Iruka, I. U., Curenton, S. M., Sims, J., Harris, K., & Ibekwe-Okafor, N. (2021).
Ethnic-Racial Identity Formation in the Early Years. Durham, NC: Hunt Institute
C
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
Abstract
Introducon
What is ethnic-racial identity
Racial-ethnic identity formation
The State of Evidence About Ethnic-Racial Identy Formaon
Ethnic-racial identity formation and child outcomes
Factors that support ethnic-racial identity formation
Programs supporting young children’s ethnic-racial identity formation
Assessing children’s ethnic-racial identity
Gaps in evidence regarding ethnic-racial identity formation
Recommendaons for an Acon-Oriented Approach
References
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
ABSTRACT
Children’s ethnic-racial identity formation is a critical aspect of their development and has implications across
the lifespan. However, there has been limited attention to children’s ethnic-racial identity formation, especially
among young children of color. This paper provides the current evidence of ethnic-racial identity formation
in the early years (ages 0-8). Guided by the literature primarily focused on older age youth, there is growing
evidence of the importance of ethnic-racial identity for young children’s cognitive and social-emotional
development, school engagement and success. The early years are a sensitive period for the formation of
positive ethnic-racial identification because it is during these years that personality is first formed, so this is an
opportunity to grow the evidence and, more importantly, include it as a critical outcome for children’s healthy
development and an area for inclusion on national, state, and local indicators of child well-being and worthy of
intervention and support. In addition to noting gaps and opportunities for innovation, we call on the need for a
cohesive infrastructure, such as a research-practice partnership, focused on developing and implementing a plan
that strengthens the research evidence while also integrating ethnic-racial identity and factors that support this
outcome in quality rating systems and standards and professional development systems.
2
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
INTRODUCTION
The sizeable achievement gap experienced by racially
marginalized children, parcularly Black1, Lane2, and
Nave American (Bernal et al., McCardle & Berninger,
2014), in comparison to their white (and Asian)
peers prior to formal schooling makes it worthwhile
to examine racially marginalized children’s early
experiences because of an unconscious (implicit) bias
that operates and is triggered by skin color (i.e., race),
historical oppression, or cultural dierences. Naonal
data indicates about 23 percent and 28 percent of Lane
and Black four-year-old children, respecvely, were
procient in leer recognion, while almost 37 percent
of white children (and even more Asian children) were
procient. Further, about 51 percent and 55 percent of
Lane and Black children, respecvely, were procient
in math and shape recognion; in contrast, over 73
percent of white children were (Aud et al., 2010). Nave
American3 children’s reading and math scores were
parcularly aected by the number of socioeconomic
risk factors they faced (Riser et al., 2019). Although
Asian American children’s reading skills were higher than
other racial/ethnic groups at the start of school, their
skills declined throughout the elementary years like
those of other racially marginalized children (Han, 2008).
Racially marginalized children also bear the brunt
of punive and harsh school discipline. Regarding
suspension and expulsion, the US Department
of Educaon, Oce for Civil Rights found in their
2013–14 data that Black children represent only 19
percent of preschool enrollment, but 47 percent of
preschool children receiving one or more out-of-school
suspensions; in comparison, white children represent
41 percent of preschool enrollment, but 28 percent
of preschool children receiving one or more out-of-
school suspensions were white (Oce for Civil Rights,
2016). Lane, Nave American, Asian American, and
Pacic Islander are also disproporonately represented
with in-school suspensions. Combined, this populaon
accounted for 15 percent of the K-12 school group, but
19 percent of suspensions.
Despite the achievement gap and challenges with
inequitable school discipline, many Black and Lane
children sll demonstrate strong social and emoonal
competence (Baker & Iruka, 2013; Humphries et al.,
2012; Jensen et al., 2015), and Chinese American4
families demonstrate posive emoonal competence
when they have strong parental supports (Curs &
Tao, 2020). Research indicates that Black children, in
parcular, have exible use of language and dierent
ways of storytelling (Gardner-Neble & Iruka, 2015;
Gardner-Neble et al., 2012), and grammac language
features in their narraves that are aligned with literacy
skills and cognive reasoning (Curenton, 2004; Curenton
& Jusce, 2004). Being a dual language learner (DLL),
which many racially marginalized children are, has
posive benets on various aspects of young children’s
development (McCabe et al., 2013). Further, research
has shown posive eects when specic instruconal
strategies are used to support Lane children in the
1 We use the term Black as a pan-ethnic description of anyone from the African diaspora including, but not exclusively limited
to, African Americans, Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Afro-Latino/a, or any other group that identifies as Black and/or having any
ancestral heritage from Africa.
2 Consistent with exper ts in the field, we use Latine to refer to individuals whose cultural background originated in Latin America.
In U.S. academic circles, Latinx is being used as a gender-inclusive term to refer to people from Latin American backgrounds, but
Spanish-speakers find that Latinx is unpronounceable in Spanish. Therefore, we have opted to use the gender-inclusive term Latine,
commonly used throughout Spanish-speaking Latin American (Melzi et al., 2020).
3 While we use the term Native American as denoted in the US Census and as used in the research studies we cite, we recognize the
term is embedded in ethnic nomenclature, racial attitudes, the legal and political status of American Indian nations and American
Indian people, and cultural change (Horse, 2005). Nevertheless we recognize that Native Americans and Tribal Communities are
Indigeneous people, making it clear that this group occupied the land first, without assigning the American nationality.
4 We recognize that Asian American/Pacific Islanders have roots in at least 29 Asian countries and 20 Pacific Islander cultures
(Ghosh, 2003). We name the specif ic group based on the specific group(s) referenced.
3
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
classroom (Castro et al., 2017; Jensen et al., 2018).
Nevertheless, Black and Lane children’s developmental
strengths (e.g., storytelling, cooperaon) are not oen
incorporated in or valued in classroom interacons
and instrucon, which may be a missed opportunity
for fostering their learning. Nor are these strengths the
current lens through which early learning classroom
interacons are gauged. Current early learning standards
about classroom interacons limit their focus to those
posive developmental skills typically found in middle-
class, white populaons, ignoring culturally-grounded
social competence skills, like having a posive ethnic-
racial identy.
Considering the development of a posive ethnic-racial
identy as a social-emoonal skill (and arguably, also
a cognive skill) is a recent development. For instance,
the Collaborave for Academic, Social, and Emoonal
Learning, also known as CASEL, has reconceptualized
commonly held noons of social-emoonal learning
into what they refer to as transformave social and
emoonal learning (SEL) (Caven, 2020; Jagers et al.,
2018). Transformave SEL is grounded in the idea that
students learn to build strong, respecul relaonships
that appreciate people’s dierences and similaries and
learn to crically examine issues and seek collaborave
soluons to social problems. Posive racial identy
ts within this transformaonal view in terms of the
important social-emoonal skill of self-awareness,
which CASEL believes is the foundaon for equity. Social
awareness is the ability for children to understand
their personality, behavior, internal states, and their
role in social networks. Not only can a posive and
transformave view of self-awareness be crical to
white students in terms of making them realize their
power and privilege, but it is also essenal to helping
racially marginalized children develop a posive
ethnic-racial identy. Another crical aspect of the
transformave SEL view that applies to ethnic-racial
identy is social awareness. Social awareness is a child’s
ability to engage in empathy and perspecve-taking
and their ability to respect diversity. When children
develop a strong sense of social awareness, they will be
able to decipher negave stereotypic messages about
race and culture, and it will allow students to discern
racial and class power dynamics, both of which are skills
that can help children envision and co-create a new
environmental context that is not plagued by racial bias.
A focus on posive ethnic-racial identy is crucial as
scholars have found posive links between beliefs about
one’s ethnic/racial group and Black and Lane children’s
achievement and social-emoonal development
(Brown & Chu, 2012; Estela Zarate et al., 2005) and
Cherokee youth’s psychosocial outcomes (Homan
et al., 2021). Research has found that when children
receive messages about having posive self-worth
and self-identy, balanced with messages about racial
inequalies, this results in posive school grades
(Bowman & Howard, 1985; Sanders, 1997), academic
curiosity, and persistence (Neble Jr et al., 2006).
In contrast, experiences of discriminaon, real or
perceived, by teachers and peers are negavely related
to youth’s self-esteem and posively associated with
levels of anger, depressive symptomatology, involvement
in problem behaviors (Wong et al., 2003), and academic
orientaon and achievement and healthy outcomes
(Neble et al., 2006). By not aending to the specic
needs and assets of racial and ethnic minority children,
especially Black children who have historically been
disenfranchised from equitable access to educaon,
we will connue to see disparies in their experiences
and outcomes (i.e., disproporonate expulsion and
suspension, low expectaons, and conictual teacher-
child relaonships) (Iruka et al., 2020; Meek et al.,
2020).

Identy is the “integraon of self-concept and self-
esteem with the percepons of future development
and includes an awareness of group membership,
expectaons, social responsibilies, and privileges
according to group membership. Ethnic-racial identy
[includes] atudes and beliefs an individual holds about
[their] parcular racial or ethnic group” (Thomas &
Speight, 1999, pp. 152-153). To unpack the meaning of
these two concepts,  can be described
as the eect of an individual’s social and polical
experiences on their psychological well-being based on
their group membership's physical characteriscs. At
the same me,  focuses on an individual’s
psychological connecon with members of a shared
cultural heritage, including a parcular worldview,
language, and behavioral dynamic (McMahon & Was,
2002). Together we refer to these concepts as ethnic-
racial identy.
4
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
To understand identy formaon, it is essenal to
disnguish between race versus ethnicity. While there
is an overlap between race and ethnicity, they are
dierent constructs. Race is a social construct primarily
based on skin color, hair texture, and other physical
aributes. It is a societal social structure engineered
to communicate who has power and who does not,
and race is used to distort views of groups, such as
seeing groups as threatening, lazy, etc, and it is also
uses to jusfy oppression (Markus, 2008). There is no
biological underpinning for race, yet it operates via
societally created noons of dierence and superiority.
Similarly, there is no biological basis for , but
it is based on “a framework for acquiring a view of the
self, the world, and future opportunies, while also
providing a structure for interpersonal relaons and
subjecve experiences” (Spencer & Markstrom-Adams,
1990, p. 292) such as a shared language, religious
heritage, or geographic locaon. Members of ethnic
groups may dier by race, such as Lanes who have a
shared language of Spanish, naonal heritage, or shared
ancestry. But ethnicity may also be used to describe a
sense of belonging among members of dierent racial
groups, such as Blacks or those who are mulracial.
Phinney and Ong (2007) indicated a sense of belonging
as a crical component of ethnic identy, implicang
that as individuals from ethnically marginalized groups
associate posive feelings with their group membership,
they will also hold posive beliefs and atudes about
themselves as a group member. When a healthy
identy has been formed, members of racial and ethnic
groups are proud and feel a sense of belonging and
are movated to be a part of their racial-ethnic group
(Markus, 2008).

All children go through the process of identy formaon
in general. However, children of color are confronted with
developing an addional identy rooted in their group
membership and based in their group’s experiences
with racism, prejudice, and biases. The development of
this aspect of children of color’s identy is shaped by
their racial and ethnic idencaon, racial and ethnic
preference, racial and ethnic atudes, and reference
group orientaon (Spencer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990).
 is the ability to idenfy
oneself as part of a racial or ethnic group. Racial and
ethnic preference is an indicaon of having a posive
feeling about one’s racial and ethnic group. Racial and
 is how a parcular racial or ethnic group
is viewed in society, such as the ability to know and
understand stereotypes. is
an indicaon of how racially or ethnically diverse children
determine their identy in relaon to their ethnic-racial
group.
Evidence shows that children’s racial awareness and
identy begin in the early childhood years. The literature
is clear that very young children are processing race
and racial dierences as early as three months. In
one study, Kelly et al. (2005) found that three-month-
old white infants living in the United Kingdom shown
smuli of faces from dierent racial and ethnic groups
demonstrated a preference for faces from their own
racial and ethnic group based on eye movement. Further
research indicates that between three and nine months,
infants become familiar with ethnic-racial smuli through
the process of perceptual narrowing (Williams et al.,
2020). During this developmental period, children begin
to develop preferences for racial and ethnic groups
familiar to them. Work by Metzo (2006) also shows
that while infants may not have full language, they are
able to interpret and aempt to mimic adult behaviors
whether directed at them or not. This indicates that
children’s percepons about themselves, others, and
the environment are inuenced long before children
have language. While there is a need for more studies
showing how early children can disnguish racial and
ethnic dierences, evidence is clear that by the age of
two, children can use racial categories to reason about
others and their behaviors (Hirschfeld, 2008). By three to
four years of age, children can categorize people based
on the color of their skin, such as brown or pink-colored
skin, and this is aligned with Swanson et al.’s (2009) study
that found that racial identy in childhood goes through
age-related progression beginning with knowledge of
color categories and culminang with the awareness of
racial categories. By ve to six years of age, children can
accurately label people by socially constructed racial
categories, like Black and white. This is when children
associate posive aributes with white and negave
aributes with Black, leading to a pro-white bias in ethnic-
racial socializaon (Spencer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990).
During these early years, race begins to aect children’s
behavior and how they see themselves. For example,
by the age of ve, children are likely to succumb to
5
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
stereotype threat (Ambady et al., 2001). Stereotype
threat is a cognive process where a person’s
performance on standardized tasks is diminished when
primed with a stereotype about their group (e.g., Black
students are not smart, boys do beer in math). In a
study with Asian American children, Ambady et al. (2001)
found that elementary school children (kindergarten to
grade two) showed a change in their performance on a
standardized measure when primed with negave and
posive stereotypes. Thus, it is clear that by the me
children enter formal schooling, the internalizaon of
their racial identy, and the stereotypes that go along
with it, have an impact on their achievement and
social-emoonal development. However, it is essenal
to note that while children may be able to make social
aribuons based on skin color, it does not necessarily
mean that they have poor self-concept and self-hatred.
For example, Beale Spencer (1982) showed that children
could simultaneously have a Eurocentric preference and
have a high self-concept about being Black. However,
this Eurocentric preference for all children changed as
children got older, around age nine, and it diverged to
the extent that Black children began to display Black
preference. In contrast, their white peers’ preference
remained Eurocentric. Black children’s preference for
their own racial group connued to grow with age (Smith
et al., 2009). In fact, Black children were more likely to
report experiencing racial pride than white children or
mixed-race children; 58 percent of them were likely to
answer in response to quesons about what is racial
pride, and made statements such as, “I think it means
I’m proud to be Black. I like who I am” (Black boy, grade
four), compared to only 29 percent of mixed-race and 13
percent of white children (Rogers & Meltzo, 2017, pp.
328). Even though racially marginalized children show
skills in identy formaon, the understanding of skin color
disncon and the ability to idenfy as a member of a
racial or ethnic group is a mul-stage process that occurs
across several years, as several racial or ethnic identy
formaon models arculate. For example, Cross Jr (1995)
developed a ve-stage identy formaon model of racial
identy for Black people based on his work with children
and adolescents. The ve stages are pre-encounter,
encounter, immersion, internalizaon, and polical
acvity.
01. Pre-encounter: Individual’s identity may not be a
salient part of their identity, or they may be anti-Black
or pro-white.
02. Encounter: This is the stage when individuals
experience an event or receive a stimulus that causes
them to challenge their beliefs about their identity
or make them aware of their identity (e.g., called a
racial slur, excluded from events or opportunities due
to race). Individuals will likely experience confusion,
alarm, depression, and eventually guilt, anger, and
anxiety (Thomas & Speight, 1999).
03. Immersion: Individuals immerse themselves in the
Afrocentric culture, including the values, beliefs,
traditions, language, and activities. Individuals are
likely to feel anger during this stage.
04. Internalization/Commitment: This is the stage when
individuals have internalized their racial identity
with their self-concept. This means that individuals
primarily view themselves and their experiences
through their racial and cultural identity.
05. Political activity: The final stage is the active behavior
of ending all people's oppression primarily through
political action.
Beyond racial identy, ethnic identy has also been
examined. In 1987, Aboud (1987) and Rotheram and
Phinney (1987) idened the components of ethnic
identy; this was updated by Bernal and colleagues
(1990). The ve components of ethnic identy include:
ĤEthnic self-identification: This is the ability to
categorize one as a member of an ethnic group
and recognizing appropriate cues.
ĤEthnic constancy: This is the knowledge that one’s
ethnic characteristics are permanent across time
and settings.
ĤUse of ethnic role behaviors: This is engaging in
behaviors that reflect the culture, styles, and
customs of the ethnic group.
ĤEthnic knowledge: This is the knowledge that
certain behaviors, customs, traits, and behaviors
are meaningful for one’s ethnic group.
ĤEthnic preferences and feelings: This is the
feeling and preference about being a member
of an ethnic group, and also a preference for
one’s ethnic-racial groups’ behaviors, customs,
language, and values.
While the literature on ethnic identy is sll limited,
there is agreement that children can classify themselves
and others based on ethnic identy. It is thought that
6
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
ethnic identy may occur later compared to racial
identy because the social markers may be more
ambiguous. It may be easier for young children to
categorize by race because this is generally categorized
based on skin color and other physical features like hair
type and texture. The ve ethnic identy components
described by Bernal and colleagues seem to occur at
dierent developmental stages. Serrano-Villar and
Calzada (2016) indicate that “From the preschool
(four- to ve-year-old) to school-aged (six- to 10-year-
old) years, self-idencaon shied from an ‘empty’
label (i.e., that is parroted) to a ‘meaningful’ one (i.e.,
that reects an understanding of why an individual
is [Mexican American]), and the other components
shied from simple imitaon of what family members
were doing to more complex, individualized knowledge,
behaviors and feelings/preferences” (pp. 3-4). They sll
found that about half of preschoolers were found to self-
idenfy.
THE STATE OF EVIDENCE ABOUT

FORMATION
We briey present the current evidence about the links
between ethnic-racial identy on various child outcomes
and factors shown to support ethnic-racial identy.


Numerous studies nd mulple links between
racial identy and children and youth’s prosocial
development. Rivas-Drake and colleagues (2014)
provide a comprehensive review of the eects of
ethnic–racial identy on developmental outcomes in
ve main dimensions for African American, Lane, Asian
American, Pacic Islander, and Nave American youth.
The ve dimensions are (a) exploraon, (b) resoluon,
(c) centrality, (d) posive aect, and (e) public regard.
Exploraon dimension is related to children seeking
out more informaon, “including media consumpon
related to the history and cultural norms of their group,
as well as seeking membership in same-race collecves
that increase exposure to and experiences with group
norms and beliefs” (Huguley et al., 2019, p. 440).
Rivas-Drake et al. (2014) nd this dimension is related
to posive self-esteem, more interest in learning, and
fewer depressive symptoms. Resoluon is when youth
have made meaning of their racial identy and claried
what their identy means to them, which is associated
with more interest in learning. Centrality is focused on
how much group members are important to the youth’s
self-concept. This is linked to their prosocial behavior,
high academic movaon, and peer acceptance and
popularity. Posive aect is the youth’s evaluaon of
armaon and pride about their membership and a
sense of belonging. This is found to be associated with
posive self-esteem, prosocial behavior, and fewer
depressive symptoms. This dimension is also linked to
posive academic engagement and achievement and
greater school success and connectedness. Finally,
public regard is the percepon of others’ evaluaon
of a youth’s group, which is linked to youth’s fewer
somac symptoms, greater school belonging, academic
competence, and higher grades.
In sum, Rivas-Drake and colleagues (2014) found ethnic-
racial identy was consistently and posively associated
with psychosocial funconing and mental health,
and this is especially true for youths’ posive feelings
about their ethnic or racial group (e.g., armaon,
private regard) and Black and Lane youth psychosocial
adjustment. Ethnic-racial identy was also associated
with academic outcomes for Black, Lane, and Asian
American youth to some extent. There were less
consistent ndings for Nave American youth.
While most studies linking ethnic-racial identy focus
on older-age children and youth, evidence shows that
parental ethnic-racial identy has posive links to
young children’s early skills and outcomes and social-
emoonal development. For example, in their study
using a sample of 193 Black mother-child dyads enrolled
in an Early Head Start (EHS) program, Halgunseth
et al. (2005) found maternal racial identy atudes
related to children’s cognive achievement and social
competence. Children of mothers who internalized
Black-centered values (i.e., values that upli Black
people) had stronger social competence, indicang
that the more mothers internalized a posive racial
identy, the likely it supported children’s sense of self.
Counter to expectaons, children with mothers in the
pre-encounter stage (i.e., endorse white mainstream
atudes) had stronger cognive outcomes. The authors
speculate such a nding may indicate that mothers who
were at the pre-encounter stage felt it was important to
align to society’s expectaons and engaged in behaviors
7
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
aligned with and ensured success in white culture. In
another study, Smith et al. (2009) examined the link
between ethnic-racial identy and 713 Black elementary
students' achievement and behavior. In addion to
nding that own-group racial preferences increased with
age, they found that ethnic-racial identy is posively
related to children’s social acceptance, physical
appearance, and behavioral conduct; and posive
ethnic-racial identy is posively predicve of children’s
reading and listening comprehension above and beyond
socio-demographics (e.g., age, educaon, income) and
self-esteem.


Various factors have been found to support young
children’s racial identy formaon and posive
racial identy. McAdoo’s (2002) foundaonal study
with preschool children showed that parents are
crical primary agents for ethnic-racial identy
formaon. Specically, parents’ teaching about racial
history and strategies for addressing discriminaon
were instrumental in children’s racial atudes
and preferences. These pracces are called racial
, and they are necessary to develop posive
racial identy and migate the psychological harm
from connuous negave messages about one’s race
(Hughes, 2003; Murry et al., 2001). Beyond the family
and home, schools and communies also socialize
and contribute to children’s racial identy formaon.
Based on 98 fourth-grade Black children, Smith et al.
(2003) found that children whose teachers exhibited
higher levels of ethnic-racial trust and perceived fewer
barriers due to race and ethnicity evidenced more
trust and opmism. Children living in communies
with higher proporons of college-educated residents
also exhibited more posive ethnic-racial atudes. An
examinaon of racial socializaon pracces and their
eects among 241 African American rst graders found
that neighborhood quality also maers for children’s
ethnic-racial identy (Caughy et al., 2006). Specically,
the greater the social capital of the neighborhood, the
stronger children’s racial pride, but on the contrary,
disadvantaged neighborhoods were associated with
greater feelings of racial mistrust and greater emphasis
on preparing for racial bias. Addionally, Caughy and
colleagues found that all racial socializaon messages
are not created equal, such that racial socializaon
pracces that communicated being mistrusul of whites
were associated with externalizing behavior problems in
boys and internalizing behavior problems in girls.
In their lifespan model of ethnic-racial identy, Williams
et al. (2020) nd various inuencers of children’s
identy formaon in the early years. In early childhood,
parents and families serve as the primary agent where
children learn about their culture and are prepared for
racialized experiences, including messages about pride
and mistrust. These experiences could also vary based
on families' socio-economic status and community and
children’s characteriscs such as their age, gender, and
skin tone. Other contexts that can also impact children’s
ethnic-racial identy include contexts such as their early
care and educaon seng and educators and other
adults in this seng. In contrast, in middle childhood,
children have a more concrete understanding of their
ethnic and racial identy and engage in more behaviors
that align with their ethnic-racial identy. Beyond the
home and family, during this period, children are more
inuenced by their current context, peers, and the
school community, including same-race friends and
more media exposure and other social life, such as
extracurricular acvies. Thus, as children’s contexts
expand beyond their home and family, the inuencers of
their ethnic-racial identy also broaden.
While there sll remains a dearth of study on ethnic-
racial identy formaon for many groups of children
including Nave American, Lane, Asian American/
Pacic Islander, and Black children across the diaspora
(e.g., Afro-Lanes, Carribean-Americans), there is
emerging work examining the ethnic-racial identy of
mulracial and transracially adopted children based
on their genecs, percepon by majority society, and
internal feeling of racial identy (e.g., Ung et al., 2012).
Nishina and Witkow (2020) describe all the nuances
of mulracial children’s identy development and
why child development researchers should care about
the ethnic-racial identy of these children and why it
is important to include these children in studies that
focus on identy development. While we agree with
their suggeson that mulracial children should be
considered as their own ethnic group, we recognize
there are limitaons in terms of how the results of
their developmental trajectories might be able to
be understood given the vast heterogeneity among
the children, their family conguraons, and their
8
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
interacons with the communies that form their
identy. Therefore, for studies, and even perhaps for
demographic purposes, lumping mulracial children
together ignores the diversity that exists within this
group and the ways in which mulracial children’s
identy could vary depending on how they themselves
idenfy, how others see them, and the quanty and
quality of social interacons they have with members
of their ethnic groups. Nishina and Witkow’s conceptual
piece presents the eld with lots to consider, and
in-depth work on mulracial children’s identy
development is just beginning. Thus, there is a need
to aend to the mul-dimensionality and complexity
of mulracial ethnic-racial identy, especially when
considering that such identy intersects with other
factors such as phenotype, gender, and community
connecon.


In light of the emerging importance of ethnic-racial
identy for young children’s social and academic
competence, there is a need to examine programs found
to, directly and indirectly, promote and support this
aspect of children’s development. We review several
programs purporng to directly or indirectly support
children’s ethnic-racial identy (see Table 1). This is not
an exhausve list but a list to show the nature of the
programming, target age, and sengs.
9
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
ORGANIZATION ESTABLISHED NATURE OF PROGRAMS TARGET AGE PARTICIPANTS
Advancing Racial
and Ethnic Equity
in Head Start
n.d.
Webinar series aims to promote anti-bias
and anti-racism strategies Head Start and
Early Head Start programs can use in their
practices, services, and systems; includes
children’s understanding of race and identity
development.
Infants,
toddlers, and
preschoolers
Head Start and Early Head
Start staff
Abriendo Puertas,
Opening Doors 2007
Ten-session curriculum for parents delivered by
local partners promotes practices that foster
children’s learning and development, parent
leadership, and advocacy.
Preschool-aged
children Parents
Children’s
Instute 1906
Early education, behavioral health, and family
strengthening services. Training for professionals
and caregivers in trauma-informed care,
evidence-based clinical treatment, parenting,
and fatherhood, including training staff to
confront their own experiences with racism.
Early childhood,
school-age
children, and
teenagers
Children, caregivers, and
teachers
Center on
Culture, Race &
Equity at Bank
Street College of
Educaon’s Black
Lives Maer at
School
2016
Annual weekly symposium designed to promote
dialogue, curricula, and community events that
explore racism in educational environments and
the policies and curriculum that promote equity
for Black children and community events such as
National Youth Day.
Early childhood Educators, students, parents,
families, community members
EmbraceRace 2016
Community and resources including articles,
webinars, action guides, children’s books,
resources, and stories to support those raising
and guiding children to be inclusive, informed,
and brave when it comes to race.
Preschool and
elementary-
aged children
Caregivers and early childhood
educators
Naonal
Black Child
Development
Instute
1970
Strengths-based culturally relevant, evidence-
based, and trauma-informed resources,
programs, and events, including grassroots
effor ts at the local level through their National
Affiliate Network. Examples of resources include
direct distribution of culturally relevant and
developmentally appropriate children’s books
and supplemental materials. Programs and
events include an Annual Conference, programs
across the country focused on health and
wellness, literacy, and family engagement.
Birth to age
eight
Leaders, policymakers,
professionals, and parents
P.R.I.D.E.: Posive
Racial Identy
Development in
Early Educaon
2017
For teachers: speaker series, cohor t program
with monthly sessions. For parents: Parent
Village program with weekly meetings. For
teachers & parents: Pop up mini art festivals
with affirming art ac tivities. Other: fee-for-
service PD.
Three to eight
years old
Primarily teachers
and caregivers, with
opportunities for child and
family involvement and PD
opportunities at institutions
such as museums and libraries
Table 1

10
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS

Two measures – Doll Test (Clark & Clark, 1947) and the
Preschool Racial Atude Measure (Williams et al., 1975)
are two of the premier measures to measure ethnic-racial
atude and identy in early childhood. However, there
is concern that forced-choice methods may not indicate
the child’s true racial atude (Jensen & Tisak, 2020). The
Mul-Response Racial Atude measure (MRA; Doyle &
Aboud, 1995) allows children to aribute posive and
negave adjecves to more than one photo, thereby
overcoming previous studies' main aws. The MRA
consists of the following tasks and smuli: 10 posive and
10 negave adjecves. These adjecves are represented
on index cards. For example, "naughty" was depicted by
three cards showing a room with crayons on the oor
and crayon scribbles on one wall. The child is then asked
to sort the photos into separate boxes. A photo depicng
a specic racial group (white, Black, and Indigenous) is
posted outside the box. The researcher states, "Some
children are naughty. They oen do things like drawing on
the wall with crayons. Who is naughty?’’
Ethnic-Racial Preference. Only a few measures have been
used to assess children’s ethnic-racial identy during the
early years. One is the Racial Atudes Beliefs Scale-II
(RABS-II) developed by Spencer (1996). The RABS-II was
designed for K-2nd graders and used a pictorial projecve
technique to determine children’s racial preference.
Children are shown two gendered (boy/girl) sets of
photographs of children from various ethnic-racial groups
(African American, Lane, white, and Asian). For each set
of pictures, children were asked: (a) with whom would
you rather be friends, (b) who do you think is smarter, (c)
who do you think is meaner, and (d) who do you think is
beer looking? The measure is then scored for own-group
preference (α = .71), which reects how oen the child
chose a photograph of a child that matched their ethnic-
racial identy, versus other-group preference (alpha =
.73), which reects how oen a child chose a picture that
did not match their ethnic-racial identy. There is also an
overall preference that ranges from -3 to 9 and reects the
frequency of preference for their own group for posive
items versus negave quesons (α = .75)
 In third grade, children are
competent in answering quesons based on a Likert
scale, so the Mulgroup Ethnic Identy Measure (MEIM;
Phinney, 1992) can be used. Examples of items are, “I am
happy that I am a member of the group I belong to,” and
“I feel a strong aachment toward my own ethnic group.
Responses are scaled from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5
(strongly agree); α = .74.
Gaps in evidence regarding ethnic-racial

While there is growing literature on ethnic-racial identy
formaon, there are sll gaps in this area, especially in
early childhood. There is a need for in-depth examinaon
about the stages of ethnic-racial identy formaon in
the rst few years of life, and to what extent this may
dier across racial and ethnic groups, especially for Asian
Americans, Nave Americans, as well as members of the
African diaspora (e.g., African American, Afro-Caribbean
and African children). One area of research that needs
to be studied more in terms of ethnic-racial identy is
examining biracial and mulracial children’s identy
development, especially for those whose biracial identy
comprises two racially marginalized groups, such as
Afro-Lane children. For instance, qualitave research
by Casllo and colleagues (2020) has shown that youth
with a Black-Asian ethnic-racial identy report racial
identy conict across their two communies, such as
being alienated by the Asian community or having their
ethnic-racial identy validity quesoned within the Black
community. Also, Black-Asian female youth reported
being hypersexualized due to their biracial identy.
Beyond children who are members of marginalized
groups, there is a need to understand the process
and factors that impact white children’s racial identy
formaon, or at the minimum, recognion of their
identy in relaon to children of color.
There is also a need to examine whether there are
dierences based on children’s individual characteriscs
such as age, gender, size, and phenotype (skin color, hair
texture), family characteriscs, such as income level,
family structure, language, and parental educaon,
and community characteriscs, such as urban or rural
environment, the proporon of ethnically and racially
diverse community members, among other factors. With
many young children in out-of-home care and exposed to
media, there is a need for more studies examining how
these non-familial contexts may be inuencing the growth
of children’s ethnic-racial identy.
There is some indicaon that children as young as nine
months prefer faces from their own racial and ethnic
group, but this study was done in another country
11
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
with white children (Kelly et al., 2005). There is a need
for studies focused on very young children in the US
and other racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore,
studies asking children to label dolls show that young
children place posive aributes on white dolls and
negave atudes on Black/Brown dolls. However,
there is debate as to whether this indicates children’s
negave internalizaon or just categorizaon based on
environmental and social cues. For example, Gopaul-
McNicol (1995) interpreted Black West Indian children’s
preference for a white versus Black Cabbage Patch doll
to be an indicator of internalized oppression due to
colonialism. Thus, there is more to be done about the
development of children’s ethnic-racial identy, how
we assess their racial-ethnic identy, and factors across
children’s environment that strengthen posive racial
identy, and what this may mean for children's social,
emoonal, and academic skills.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AN

The literature on ethnic-racial identy formaon shows
the importance of children’s development and school
and life success. It also shows that many factors can
strengthen (or detract) from children’s posive ethnic-
racial identy. While there are emerging science-based
programs that directly and indirectly support children’s
ethnic-racial identy, there is no rigorously validated
approach for examining or measuring it. As the early
years are viewed as a sensive period for children’s
development and learning, and the understanding that
children’s identy is an essenal aspect of children's
social-emoonal and cognive competence, early care
and educaon programs and systems must begin to
consider this as an area of importance for children’s
development. There has been an intenonal focus on
children’s language, cognive, and social-emoonal
development, but primarily centered on white
normave standards. In light of the call to beer meet
children of color's needs and support their holisc
development, a focus on their ethnic-racial identy
formaon is one crical area needing aenon. Thus,
we recommend a cohensive scholarly infrastructure
to ensure research is aligned with pracce and policy
to translate the science to support children’s ethnic-
racial identy. One suggested approach to create an
acon-oriented infrastructure is the development of
an 







.
This Research-Pracce Partnership will review this white
paper along with the other relevant documents (e.g., The
Hunt Instute’s Racial Identy Formaon nal report)
to develop a plan to holiscally examine, address, and
recommend how the science of ethnic-racial identy
formaon can be strengthened in the early years and
how ethnic-racial identy formaon can be strengthened
within early care and educaon systems and programs.
This group will be charged with developing and
 a plan that includes the following:
01. furthering the field’s understanding of positive
ethnic-racial identity, including stages of
development and factors that impact and support it,
with an emphasis on children of color;
02. examining how early care and education settings
and systems can promote positive ethnic-racial
identity, especially for children of color, as part of
chidlren’s development and to support children’s
school and life success;
03. conceptualizing early childhood professional
development education and training to provide
the workforce with the skills they need to support
children’s positive SEL related to ethnic-racial
identity;
04. conducting a comprehensive review of
measurements and assessment of young children’s
ethnic-racial identity formation, and attend to
the source (parent, child, educator, rater) and
level of information (e.g., child-level, classroom
level, or program level), again with the focus on
organizational environments that can be improved;
05. prioritizing measurement development and indicator
selection to support inclusion in national, state,
and local early childhood classroom environmental
indicators and programming standards and
outcomes;
12
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
06. conducting a comprehensive review of programs
intending to strengthen children’s ethnic-racial
identity formation and from this review, provide
lessons for new program development, especially
for children of color;
07. prioritizing funding for additional studies needed
about how to integrate identified programs into
current early care and education systems and
infrastructure; and
08. developing an extensive communication and
dissemination plan with diverse stakeholders
across the early childhood field to communicate
the importance of ethnic-racial identity for
children’s development and school and life skills
and the importance of parent, family, schools, and
community partnerships (e.g., parents, educators,
education leaders, administrators, community
leaders) to support positive ethnic-racial identity,
with an emphasis on children of color.
13
ETHNIC-RACIAL IDENTITY FORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS
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... Developing an ethnic-racial identity is an important developmental process throughout childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Yet with some exceptions (e.g., Marcelo & Yates, 2019;Umaña-Taylor et al., 2014), few studies have evaluated this construct in early childhood (Williams et al., 2020; though see Iruka et al., 2021, for a literature review about the formation of ethnic-racial identity in the early years). While many models of ethnic-racial identity exist (see Miller-Cotto & Brynes, 2016, for a review), the field defines it as a multidimensional construct that refers to the process by which individuals develop awareness, attitudes, and beliefs about their ethnic heritage and racial membership groups (Williams et al., 2020). ...
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Racial literacy as defined by Stevenson (2014) is an important cultural resistance strategy (e.g., positive coping strategy) for Black children and youth because it provides them with the skills needed to survive in a racist society. Stevenson’s work along with his colleague’s (Anderson et al., 2019) focuses on adolescents and those in middle childhood, yet it has inspired us to postulate how racial literacy might be fostered in young children (age 3-8). We propose a theoretical model for how racial literary can be fostered within shared-reading contexts using racially-affirming storybooks coupled with conversations grounded in the principles of ethnic- racial socialization. We posit that these conversations result in both direct influence on racial literacy and indirect influence via positive ethnic-racial identity and emotion regulation and understanding.
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The present study examined the concurrent relations between culture-specific dimensions of family engagement for low-income, Pan-Latine families and children’s narrative ability, a critical predictor of reading success. One hundred seventy-five children and their caregivers were recruited from seven Head Start centers in a large city in the northeastern region of the US. Family engagement was assessed through a culturally grounded instrument (McWayne et al. 2013; McWayne and Melzi 2014) that measures parental behavior along one school-based and three home-based engagement dimensions. Children’s spontaneous narrative productions were elicited through two tasks: a picture-elicited and a conversational narrative task. Findings showed that family engagement dimensions were differentially related to important aspects of children’s narrative production, even after accounting for child and parent demographic characteristics. Specifically, families’ efforts to provide stimulating experiences for their children beyond “the basics” (i.e., Supplemental Education) were significantly related to children’s ability to tell longer narratives during the picture-elicited narrative task. In addition, parents’ active school-based engagement (i.e., School Participation) was significantly associated with children’s ability to narrate independently in the conversational narrative task.
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The current paper presents a lifespan model of ethnic-racial identity (ERI) from infancy into adulthood. We conceptualize that ethnic-racial priming during infancy prompts nascent awareness of ethnicity/race that becomes differentiated across childhood and through adulthood. We propose that the components of ERI that have been tested to date fall within five dimensions across the lifespan: ethnic-racial awareness, affiliation, attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge. Further, ERI evolves in a bidirectional process informed by an interplay of influencers (i.e., contextual, individual, and developmental factors, as well as meaning-making and identity-relevant experiences). It is our goal that the lifespan model of ERI will provide important future direction to theory, research, and interventions.
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Objectives: We examined ethnic-racial and gender identities and their relations to self-esteem and well-being among Cherokee early adolescents. We also explored gender differences in the significance to boys and girls of ethnic-racial and gender identities. Method: The sample consisted of 212 Cherokee 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls and boys (Mage = 12.7 years). Adolescents completed survey measures of gender and ethnic-racial centrality, gender private regard, ethnic-racial private regard, ethnic-racial public regard, self-esteem, and three measures of well-being. Results: Both genders reported high levels of the importance of being Cherokee to their identity (i.e., centrality), and strong positive attitudes toward being Cherokee (i.e., ethnic-racial private regard). Boys perceived gender as more important and more positive than girls. Among girls, ethnic-racial identity was more central and was viewed more positively than their gender identity. Mean levels of ethnic-racial and gender centrality did not differ for boys, nor did their reports of ethnic-racial and gender private regard. Youth's perceptions that others hold Cherokees in high regard (public regard) decreased across the grade levels. For both boys and girls, gender identity dimensions had stronger relations than ethnic-racial identity to psychosocial outcomes. Conclusions: For this sample of Cherokee adolescents, ethnic-racial identity held more prominence for girls than for boys, although aspects of gender identity were more strongly related to well-being for both genders. Results of the study indicate the significance of considering multiple identities in understanding identity development in American Indian adolescents. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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Parent emotion talk (ET), a type of emotion-related socialization practice, is theorized to foster children's emotion-related regulation and socioemotional skills. Yet, there has been limited research linking parent ET to children's effortful control, a top-down regulatory process. Despite the observed cultural differences in ET between Chinese and European American families, few researchers tested whether the socioemotional benefits of ET are generalizable to Chinese American families, an immigrant group with contrasting values in their heritage and host cultures. The present study examined Chinese American parents' ET, its associations with sociocultural factors, and prospective relations to school-age children's effortful control, sympathy, and socially appropriate behaviors. In a two-wave (1.5 years apart) longitudinal study of first- and second-generation Chinese American children (N = 258, age = 6-9 years at Wave 1, 52% from low-income families), the content and quality of parent ET (e.g., the overall quality of emotion talk, frequency of emotion explanations, emotion questions, and number of emotion words) was coded from a video-recorded shared book reading task. Children's effortful control, sympathy, and social behaviors were rated by parents, teachers, and children. Results showed that the Chinese American parents from lower socioeconomic status families, families with lower English proficiency, or more recent immigrants displayed lower ET. Parent ET was prospectively related to children's higher effortful control after controlling for stability, and higher effortful control was concurrently associated with children's higher sympathy and more socially appropriate behaviors. The findings provide empirical support for the socioemotional benefits of ET for school-age children in Chinese American immigrant families. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
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Using a nationally representative dataset (Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort) and bioecological-cumulative disadvantage framework, the present study investigated the relations between salient child and family risk experiences and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) children's kindergarten academic and behavioral outcomes. Using hierarchical linear regression, individual risk models, cumulative risk models, and interaction models examining combinations of two types of individual risks were examined. Individual risk models including seven risks (i.e., poverty, preterm/low birth weight, low maternal education, single motherhood, inadequate prenatal care, teen motherhood, and severe maternal depression) revealed that poverty exposure at any point prior to kindergarten was associated with AIAN children's kindergarten academic skills (i.e., reading and math). Cumulative risk models suggest that children exposed to two or more risks displayed lower reading and math skills than those exposed to no or one risk. The interaction models revealed significant risk by risk interaction effects for kindergarten math and all behavior outcomes examined in this study. Specifically, children who experienced poverty and had mothers with risk characteristics (i.e., without a high school diploma or who gave birth as teenagers) demonstrated poorer behavioral outcomes (i.e., lower social competence and approaches to learning as well as higher externalizing behaviors) than children experienced poverty but with mothers having no such risk characteristics. Interestingly, findings also revealed that children living in poverty presented better kindergarten outcomes (i.e., scored higher on math and approaches to learning and lower on externalizing behaviors) when they were living with single mothers than with married/cohabitating parents. Given the salience of specific combinations of poverty and maternal characteristics for AIAN children, implications for two-generation programming is discussed along with the potential value of extended family networks. Further study implication was discussed.
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Parental ethnic-racial socialization practices help shape the development of a strong ethnic-racial identity in children of color, which in turn contributes positively to mental health, social, and academic outcomes. Although there is a wide body of literature on the relationship between these meta-constructs, this research has not been systematically examined to either (a) determine the degree to which associations between parental ethnic-racial socialization approaches and ethnic-racial identity dimensions hold actual practical significance for parents of color or (b) estimate how these associations vary as a function of theorized mitigating factors. In response, this meta-analytic study investigated the strength of the association between parental ethnic-racial socialization practices and the construction of ethnic-racial identity, as well as factors that moderated the strength and direction of this association. Findings revealed that across 68 studies, there was a significant and substantive relationship between the global constructs of ethnic-racial socialization practices and ethnic-racial identity. Most individual practices of ethnic-racial socialization were positively associated with global ethnic-racial identity, and the strongest relationship was with pride and heritage socialization. Parental ethnic-racial socialization was also positively associated with all ethnic-racial identity dimensions tested except for public regard, with which it was negatively associated. Developmental findings showed that while ethnic-racial socialization positively predicted identity at every level of schooling, the strongest relationship was at the high-school level. Finally, the association between ethnic-racial socialization and ethnic-racial identity was positive for African Americans, Latinxs, and Asian Americans alike, but the strongest relationship was among Latinxs. Implications for parenting practices and future research are discussed.
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Much of the existing literature on intergroup attitudes in preschool does not look at the intersections of race and gender. Integrating key developmental and social theories, the current study asked 58 diverse preschoolers (31 white, 27 non-white) to make decisions about other children when given only racial and gender information. The preschoolers were shown pictures of Black and white boys and girls and were asked who would hit or help. The entire sample was more likely to select the 'both' option for girls on the prosocial behaviour rather than the aggressive behaviour. Participant race mattered for preschoolers who showed some sort of bias (i.e. chose a single picture rather than the both or neither option) but only when looking at girl pictures. In short, white participants showed favouritism towards the same-race girl, while non-white participants favoured the other-race girl. Implications, limitations, and future directions are discussed. ARTICLE HISTORY
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The population of multiracial youth in the United States is expected to grow in the coming decades (exceeding 11% by 2060). In this article, we aim to convince child development researchers who do not usually examine race and ethnicity in their work to consider multiracial youth. We describe ways in which youth from more than one racial background might have common developmental experiences. First, we present a rationale for considering multiracial youth as their own numerical minority group. Then, we provide several illustrative examples demonstrating how studying multiracial youth might provide added insight about three interrelated areas: ethnic/racial identity development, social‐cognitive development, and interactions with peers. We also offer guidance on collecting information about children’s and adolescents’ multiracial status. We conclude by offering suggestions for researchers who seek to include multiracial youth in their work.
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Debates continue about how to teach young Latinos and other minoritized children in the US. Latinos are a compelling case because of (1) their size and (2) their paradoxical development: strong social competencies yet relatively weak academic development. A suggestion is to provide young Latinos with classroom experiences that resonate with the ways they are socialized at home, yet cultural dimensions of teaching in early education are underspecified and reliable and valid measures do not exist. We frame equitable teacher–child interactions as the combination of generic and cultural aspects, and as a way to utilize the social assets of Latinos in classrooms to enhance their academic development. We refine an observation protocol—the Classroom Assessment of Sociocultural Interactions (CASI)—by integrating cultural concepts from the Learning by Observing and Pitching In (LOPI) paradigm with videos of K-1 classrooms in Central Mexico, and conduct a series of psychometric analyses. We find good model fit and moderate reliability for the CASI and discuss research and practice implications to foster equitable developmental opportunities for Latino children across early education settings.