The University of Iowa
  • General Views of Children in the U.S.
    • What Do Parents Want for Their Children?
    • Where Do Parents Take Their Children?
    • Noise and Physical Freedom
    • Male vs. Female Children
    • What Forms of Discipline Are Acceptable?
    • The Role of Adults Who Are Not Parents
    • How Children Are Expected to Treat Adults and Other Children
    • Concluding Comments
  • Schools
    • Pre-Schools and Daycare Centers
    • Public and Private Schools
  • Babysitting
  • Safety
  • Child Abuse or Neglect

The General View of Children

The general objective of child-rearing for most American parents is to prepare their children to be independent, self-reliant individuals who will be able to manage their own lives by the time they reach 18, the age at which children are legally "on their own." Training for independence starts very early. Infants and young children are given choices to make, asked to express their opinions, and encouraged to do things for themselves as soon as they can. Parents will praise and encourage their children: "There, you see? You can do it yourself!"

What Do Parents Want for Their Children?

Although economic changes are making it more difficult to realize, most parents probably still hold the idea that their children should have "better lives" than they themselves had. To give their children the best possible chance to have a good life, they will, if it is possible for them to do so, invest considerable time and money in a child upbringing. This often takes the form of lessons, classes, and practices for learning to draw, play a sport, dance, sing, or play a musical instrument, Increasing numbers of parents begin investing in college savings plans when their children are still very young in anticipation of the child eventually attending post-secondary school.

Parents want their children to be happy and healthy. At a minimum this means they want their children to be free of significant health problems (physical and emotional), reasonably well educated, able to find employment suited to the children's interests and talents, and reasonably prosperous. Parents are concerned for their children's safety and will try to protect them from any harm from others or from injuring themselves.

While they are concerned with their children's well-being, American parents have their own personal interest in having a meaningful and productive life. In many cases, that means both parents will be employed, and children will be left during working hours in some form of childcare--perhaps with a babysitter, or in a daycare center or nursery school.

Where Do Parents Take Their Children?

Many parents will want to expose their children to as many aspects of life as possible, taking their children to places such as casual restaurants, stores, sporting events, social events, and performances. Exceptions to this would be to places such as an expensive restaurant or a live theater performance where a very quiet atmosphere is expected.

A formal invitation to another person's home does not normally include children unless it explicitly states that children are invited. If you have doubts about whether the people inviting you to their home expect you to bring your children, telephone in advance and ask them.

Americans generally have the idea that parents need some time away from the child(ren). Parents will often arrange for someone to "babysit" for their child(ren) so they themselves can go out. The babysitter is not always a person who knows the children, although most parents think it is better to find a babysitter who does know them.

Noise and Physical Freedom

Young children are expected to be noisier and more physically active than adults. How active and noisy they may be depends upon the setting. In their homes, children can run around and play with relatively little restraint. The parents of young children will "childproof" the home, putting any heavy, sharp, or otherwise dangerous objects, and articles a child could damage out of their reach. In this environment the child is given a great deal of freedom.

However, in enclosed public places, such as offices and stores, and in other people's homes, parents are expected to keep their children "under control," so they will not be touching or damaging anyone's property or unduly disturbing them. Parents need to be prepared to leave a public place if their children misbehave, especially when making enough noise they interfere with other people's enjoyment of the situation.

Male vs. Female Children

Americans will generally say that if they are going to have a child they will be happy no matter what the child's sex, as long as the child is healthy. Many Americans will usually try to avoid conveying the idea to their children that males are naturally more dominant and females more submissive, and that certain social roles are only for males while others are only for females. However, those more "traditional" views may still be found in some segments of American society. Visitors from abroad will notice considerable debate and comment on the status of women and gender in American society.

More diverse opinions may be found when it comes to gender identity of children, but there is a growing awareness that children can also face gender identity conflicts, including very young children who identify with the opposite gender rather than with the sex/gender they were born with.

What Forms of Discipline Are Acceptable?

American experts on child development and child rearing continually debate about the best means of inducing a child to behave appropriately, or according to the parents' wishes. Many experts emphasize "positive guidance," which means giving the child positive reinforcement when they do things the parents like rather than punishing them when they do something the parents do not like. It also means listening patiently to the child and acknowledging how they feel while telling them what unacceptable behavior is. An example: "I see that you feel really angry at Tommy for taking your toy, but you may not hit him." Another form of this idea is "positive redirection." An example: "Here is some paper to write on. Walls are not for you to write on."

Instead of using physical punishment such as "spanking" the buttocks or slapping a child's hand, parents are encouraged to use "time out" or "renewal time." During "time out," children who are misbehaving are required to sit (often in another room) until they can behave properly again. Many experts consider physical punishment destructive, because it can teach children to hurt others who are not acting the way they want.

Parents should note that punishment that leaves a mark or causes a wound or injury is not only undesirable but is also illegal. Parents who harm their children, even though the purpose is to discipline them, can be arrested for child abuse.

The Role of Adults Who Are Not a Child’s Parents

In some societies it is expected that adults who are not the child's parents--perhaps other relatives, or neighbors, or simply adults who happen to be present--can intervene to discourage a child from misbehaving. Americans do not generally have that expectation. A child's behavior is considered to be the business of the parents alone, or of the babysitter or other person left in charge of the child while the parents are away. Two exceptions: An unrelated adult might intervene when a child is doing something that seems dangerous (for example, playing with a sharp object, or getting to a place where a fall might result), and when one child is physically mistreating another. In these situations, the unrelated adult would act to stop the threat of harm but would not administer any punishment. Punishing is left to the parents.

Some Americans will act to stop what they consider misbehavior (for example, making too much noise or touching breakable objects) on the part of children visiting in their homes. Other Americans will tolerate the misbehavior--at least if the misbehaving child's parents are present.

How Children Are Expected to Treat Adults and Other Children

Children raised to be independent and self-reliant cannot be expected to be as respectful and obedient toward their elders. American children might argue with or otherwise challenge their parents and other adults. They may freely express their views, and they will not automatically accept instructions or comments from other people of any age. The typical behavior of independent, individualistic American young people seems inappropriate to visitors from some other countries. American parents try to teach their children to be polite to their elders (for example, by not interrupting them, not making too much noise in their presence, refraining from negative or critical comments, or even  using honorifics, particularly in the southern US, such as "Ms. Jennifer"), but the children are not expected to defer to adults simply because the adults are older.

Older children are expected to treat younger children with consideration and perhaps even helpfulness, and are not supposed to injure them, force them to do things they do not wish to do, or otherwise "bully" them. Male children are expected to treat female children just as they treat other males, since there is no assumption that male children are superior. American parents are likely to become disturbed if they see an older child "picking on" a younger one, or a male child mistreating a female child.

Concluding Comments

The preceding comments have not addressed the problems confronted by parents raising children in a foreign culture. Those problems are many and vexing. Children have their own adjustments to a new language and culture, and their parents need to keep that in mind, so they can be as helpful as possible. Young children usually master the local language much more quickly than their parents do and are subject to media influences and peer pressures they would not encounter at home. Parents may experience considerable frustration if they wish their children to continue to use their own language and to behave in ways that would be appropriate in the home country. Parents will want to talk with other parents from other countries who have been here longer to get ideas on maximizing the benefits and minimizing the difficulties of raising children in another country.


Pre-Schools and Day-Care Centers (for children younger than five, the age at which a child begins kindergarten)

You will find a number of pre-schools listed in the yellow pages of the telephone directory under "Day Nurseries" and "Schools - Nursery and Kindergarten - Academic." Facilities vary considerably with respect to cost, philosophy of instruction, pupil-teacher ratio, and schedule. Comprehensive information about pre-schools and day care is at  

Generally, a pre-school has shorter sessions and emphasizes educational activity. By contrast, day-care facilities have longer hours and are intended to be places where children can receive care while their parents are otherwise occupied.

Public Schools (for children five and older)

Public schools in the U.S. provide free education for children between the ages of 5 and 18.  Schools in Iowa City are divided into three levels: elementary schools--kindergarten through 6th grade (ages 5 to 11); junior high schools--7th and 8th grade (ages 12 and 13); and senior high schools--9th through 12th grade (ages 14 to 18).

To register, children must be 5 years old by September 15 of the year they enter kindergarten. 

If your child is entering school for the first time, you will need a birth certificate or other indication of your child's age. If your child has previously attended school, you will need a transcript of grades or some other document indicating the grade level at which your child should be placed.

For residents in Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, and Hills, children will attend the Iowa City Community School District (District building address: 1725 North Dodge Street, Iowa City, IA 52245).  Children usually attend the public school nearest their place of residence. To find out which public school is nearest to your place of residence, you can use the Home School Lookup tool or call 319-688-1000. Please note that all Iowa City Community School District buildings offer English Language Learner programs.  

The Iowa City schools encourage parents of elementary and secondary students to become involved in their children's education. The schools want parents to be aware of the schools' functions, the grading systems, and their child's progress in classes. The schools schedule twice-yearly "parent-teacher conferences" to discuss each elementary school child's progress.  An online program that parents have access to, called PowerSchool, permits parents to view grades, assignments, and attendance data for their children.

Parents can arrange to visit their children's classes or have special conferences with their children's teachers. Teachers want to hear from parents about concerns, problems, or questions pertaining to their children and school.

Students and scholars with children who intend to enroll in the Iowa City Community Schools should be aware school children must meet certain immunization requirements to enroll them in classes. The complete date (month, day, year) and the name of the physician or clinic where each immunization was given must be included. Please refer to the Iowa Immunization Program pamphlet for all required immunizations.

Learn more about the Iowa City Community School District  here.

Private Schools

The families of children attending private schools must pay tuition. Costs vary, depending on the age or grade and on the particular school. Like public schools, private schools are open to any student, regardless of religious affiliation. The few private schools that exist in Iowa City are described briefly here:

Regina Catholic Education Center - (early childhood center for children from ages 3-5, elementary for grade K-6, and Jr/Sr High for Grade 7-12, Religious Education for Grades K-8), 2150 Rochester Avenue, Iowa City, IA 52245 - Elementary: 319-337-5739, Jr/Sr High 319-338-5436. In addition to a curriculum comparable to public schools, religious education (Catholic) is available. Students must know some English to enroll. Some financial aid is available. 

Willowwind School (grades K-6), 950 Dover Street, Iowa City, IA 52245. 319-338-6061 - Willowwind maintains a maximum enrollment of 45 children with a student/teacher ratio of ten to one. Unlike other public and private schools in the area, teachers may remain with the same children throughout several years. Furthermore, education in the basic subjects is directed to the developmental level of each child rather than the grade level. Willowwind offers instruction in French to all students, and also in Latin to older students. Tuition costs may be reduced by tuition scholarships or parental work exchange.


A babysitter is a person whom you pay to stay with and care for your children for a given period of time while you are away from your home. Babysitters usually receive between $5.00 and $15.00 per hour, depending on the sitter's age and experience, the number of children being cared for, and possibly other considerations. Babysitters generally charge more for each additional child.

It is a good idea to be acquainted with any person you hire as a babysitter, if not first-hand then through a friend, acquaintance, or reputable agency.

Neighbors sometimes "trade" babysitting with each other; groups of mothers sometimes organize babysitting cooperatives.

The 4Cs Community Coordinated Child Care can help parents find occasional child care, provide free, temporary child care for families facing serious life issues, and provide short-term, emergency child care when families facing crisis are not able to provide regular care. To learn more about the agency, call the 4Cs office at 319-338-7684 or visit their office at 1500 Sycamore St. Iowa City.


Cleaning products in the U.S. (e.g., laundry detergents, floor and car waxes, oven cleaners) may be different from those you are accustomed to using. Cleaning products are usually harmful and can be fatal if not used properly. They are particularly dangerous for children who may play with them or eat them if the products are left within reach. Other things that can be harmful to children are certain household plants, which may have poisonous leaves or berries, and plastic bags. Good safety tips are:

  • Keep harmful products where your children cannot reach them.
  • Carefully read the directions and warnings on the label of anything you use. The label will tell you how dangerous the product is, and how to use it safely. Some of this information is incomprehensible even to Americans. If you do not understand it, get someone to translate it for you before you use the product.
  • If your child has played with or eaten something you think might be harmful, CALL POISON CONTROL CENTER:  1-800-222-1222. They will ask for the name of the product, and perhaps ask you to read aloud the ingredients shown on the package or bottle. They will probably ask the age of the child, how much the child ate, and when it happened. Then they will tell you what action to take. More information of Iowa Poison Control Center.
  • If for some reason you cannot reach Poison Control, you can call the University Hospital Emergency Room, 319-356-2233, or Mercy Iowa City Hospital Emergency Room, 319-358-2767, or 800-358-2767.

Child Abuse or Neglect

Child-raising customs differ from culture to culture. In the United States there are laws aimed at protecting children from physical abuse at the hands of their parents, babysitters, or other childcare providers. A parent, guardian, or babysitter who abuses a child or does not provide adequate care or supervision can be reported to the Department of Human Services (DHS). A person often seen hurting a child can be reported to DHS. Severely neglecting a child's basic hygiene or feeding can also be reported by neighbors or teachers as an offense called "denial of critical care." Inadequate supervision, such as leaving a child alone, whether in a residence, out of doors, or in an automobile, can also be investigated. Financial responsibility for any damages caused by a child fall on the parent or guardian.

Teachers, neighbors, police, and the DHS are interested in keeping children and property safe. With that in mind, you will want to teach your children to stay away from streets and parking lots when playing, to respect other people's property, and to obey laws. Teach children not to get in cars with people they do not know, since this is a way in which children are abducted. Young children should not be left unsupervised.

An older but excellent article that may help illustrate frequent cultural - or perhaps more importantly, legal - differences in respect to behavior regarding children appeared in the New York Times in 1997.