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Kaleidoscope of parenting cultures.

Educator: Immigrant parents from Asia in my class have a dogmatic parenting style and I don't know how to make them change their parenting style. They show little interest in the class when we discuss parenting issues. Should they not be expected to adapt to this culture? After all, it was their choice to move here.

Vidya: Should we expect them to change?

An uneasy silence pervaded the room full of experienced educators, who are grappling with similar situations. They are clueless as to how to approach it.

I will share here some observations I made of parents and children from over 27 countries who participated in a university preschool program. The emotionally enmeshed relationship between a Jewish parent and child, the teacher-taught behavior of an Indian father, the nonverbal relationship of a Brazilian couple with their child, the filial piety approach of a Chinese father, the friendly and playful demeanor of an African American mother, and the negotiation-oriented and self-explaining conduct of an Euro-American mother are descriptors of only a few characteristics observed among the preschool parents. I rely on a few examples to illustrate some cultural variations in parenting.

What is proper or improper behavior is based on cultural expectations and contexts (Brooks, 1999). Western cultures focus on the empowerment of individualism and autonomy in the child (Rudy, Grusec, & Wolfe, 1999). Freedom and individuality are the core values and parents do not view a child's defiance when asked to comply with a request as a threat. They may disagree with their child; nonetheless, they may still perceive the child's behavior as his/her way of asserting him / herself.

As a contrast, parents in most non-Western cultures believe in imposing absolute standards on their children. They value obedience and expect their children to respect authority. Their goal is to promote interdependency and cooperation. "Interdependence is promoted by fostering intense emotional bonds with children at an early age ... children are motivated to cooperate and meet the needs of others, since [their activities] promote a sense of self-worth and emotional security" (Rudy et al., p. 302).

Defiance is the opposite of cooperation and a non-cooperative behavior is perceived as a threat to maintaining their family unity. Asian and Hispanic cultures typically value individualism less and collaboration and cooperation more. They exercise more control over the child to achieve these goals. But most Westerners perceive this approach as being demanding. They fear such parenting styles would result in "poor school achievement among Euro-Americans" (Chao, 1994, p. 1111). Yet, obedience is a virtue for the non-Western parents and they have implicit faith in punishment.

Similarly, Chinese and Asian parents equate parenting to teaching (Rudy et al., 1999). For example, an Indian father expected forceful cooperation rather than cooperation through negotiation when he instructed his son several times each morning to greet his teachers. "Beta (Son), say good morning to all your teachers and friends," was a mantra he chanted. As a contrast to this, the Brazilian couple would enter very quietly and slip out of the classroom as though they would disturb the serenity of the class. They rarely exchanged greetings with the teacher or with other parents. Smith (1997) explains that Brazilians often use silence as a way to greet others. They seldom greeted or interacted with other parents when they entered the classroom in the morning.

When a child controls the behaviors of his parents, Baumrind (1991) calls it a permissive parenting style. The daily routine of a Jewish couple and their son lasted for about an hour. This little boy had a difficult time letting go of his parents. The observer noticed the emotional entanglement in their relationship--yet another characteristic of the permissive style. "Parents promote the child's assertion of his or her will: Israeli mothers, for example, are more likely than those in Japan to value disobedience when it is a reflection of the child's assertion of individuality" (Osterweil & Nagano, 1991, as cited by Rudy, Grusec, & Wolfe, 1999, p. 302). But what we must realize is that emotionally enmeshed behaviors are considered healthy in many cultures and it is believed to strengthen the bond between parents and children. It cannot be labeled as inappropriate parenting.

The communication patterns of most Euro-American parents were different from the rest. They got down to the eye-level of the children when talking with them. They spoke softly to their children and were non-intrusive. A few of them held their children on their laps or hugged them while they talked. Western culture promotes looking the speaker straight in the eye to show "interest and attention" (Smith, 1997, p. 349). Therefore, making eye contact is considered very important when communicating with others. This; is in stark contrast to many other cultures that teach their children not to establish such eye contact with elders and persons of authority because it is considered disrespectful.

The patterns of parental attitudes and behaviors exhibited in the preschool differed greatly across cultures. The cultural contexts in which parents grew up, the experiences they have had with their own parents, and the experiences they have with their own children affect parent cognition and behavior. Parents hold a mental representation of relationships, which they develop based on their own childhood experiences (Grusec, Hastings, & Mammone, 1994). It does not mean that parents passively accept and mirror the parenting styles of their parents. They filter through the behaviors and absorb only those that are in accordance with their individual beliefs. Thus, variations in approaches illustrate both cultural and individual differences in parenting styles.

Immigrants leave their lands, families, and cultural settings behind. Even though it was their choice to move here, they face an overwhelming challenge in adapting to new situations, land, and culture. Educators can state their expectations clearly and let the parents do it in their own way. As long as there is no abuse, we must strive to help parents maintain their cultural identities and be successful. As one of my students put it, our goal should be to support them in their parenting and help them gain a deeper understanding of our parenting styles.


Baumrind, D. (1991). Parenting styles and adolescent development. In R. M. Lerner, A. C. Petersen, & J. Brooks-Gunn (Ed.), Encyclopedia of adolescence (pp. 746-758). New York: Garland.

Brooks, J. (1999). The process of parenting (5th ed). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Chao, R. K. (1004). Beyond parental control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65, 1111-1119.

Grusec, J., Hastings, P., & Mammone, N. (1994). Parenting cognitions and relationships schemas. In J. Smetana (Ed.), Beliefs about parenting: Origins and developmental implications (pp. 5-19). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rudy, D., Grusec, J., & Wolfe, J. (1999). Implication of cross-cultural findings for of family socialization. Journal of Moral Education, 28, 299-310.

Smith, T.J. (1997). Early childhood development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

--Vidya Thirumurthy,

International/Intercultural Committee
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Title Annotation:International/Intercultural
Author:Thirumurthy, Vidya
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Dec 22, 2004
Previous Article:Classroom idea-sparkers.
Next Article:University of Guam ACEI Student Branch.

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