To explore mothers' conceptions of child competence in three contexts of poverty, 58 mothers in a Filipino village, a Caribbean village, and an inner-city American homeless shelter described competent children in their communities. Interview responses addressed several questions. First, do mothers in these diverse settings share similar criteria in evaluating children? As expected, all three groups of mothers described competent children as well-behaved and obedient, satisfactory students, helpful in the family, and friendly with peers. Second, are adolescents less likely than younger children to be identified spontaneously as examples of competence? In contrast to Filipino mothers, American shelter and Caribbean village mothers were unlikely to identify adolescent boys as competent. Lastly, what were mothers' explanations for children's competence? All mothers emphasised parenting as the most important factor in fostering competence, but differed on secondary factors. Results suggest that similarities may reflect shared concerns in adapting to poverty as well as shared salience in developmental tasks across these cultures. Differences in maternal conceptions may reflect demands and opportunities specific to each context.
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