Cultural Differences in Parenting


Do cultural differences exist in parenting? Parenting can be our greatest joy and our most difficult challenge.  In North America, we tend to have quite rigid standards around parenting norms and what is considered to be appropriate and acceptable.  However other cultures can have vastly different “rules”, sometimes even opposite to Western cultures, and yet their parenting can be just as effective in helping children reach their developmental, emotional and social milestones.  Through recognizing the varied customs and traditions of other cultures in terms of parenting, we can learn to understand and respect that parenting is not always about what is “natural”, but it is often about what is respected and valued in the culture, such as individualistic versus collective values or rather interdependence versus a sense of community.  Parenting is a continuum and as a parent, it can be reassuring  to realize that there are a lot of choices in how to nurture, discipline and help our children grow to their full potential.

Take food for example. In North America, we appreciate and even love our food but for many of us, a good meal tends to be a more individual pleasure.  For French families, taking pleasure in food is a way of family life.  For example, most shops close between one and four so the family can appreciate and enjoy lunchtime.  It is a habit for the French to talk about the food while they are eating so as to have a good relationship with food.  Children are also taught to appreciate food and are involved in every aspect of mealtimes – from gardening to cooking to serving the meals.

In Western culture, there is also a conventional wisdom about what foods babies should be introduced to, and when.  There can often be a mentality that there are only certain foods that children are “allowed” to eat.  Recent research has shown that in families without food allergies, it is healthy for the toddlers to eat anything that the adults are eating.  Some cultural examples of this include:

–  in Taiwan, childhood favorites include fish eyes, fried anchovies, wasabi peas, jellyfish, sea cucumber and eel.

–  Many Greek families like to roast entire lambs, pigs and goat – head and all- over an open fire.  A treat for the children is to be able to peel off the skin as the animal rotated on the spit.

–  in coffee-growing regions of many countries such as Brazil and Columbia, children drink a small amount of coffee from a very young age.

–  in Korea, even babies get a taste of the spicy pickled cabbage dish kimchi.  Korean and other Asian toddlers use special training chopsticks.

Parenting differs across the globe yet children thrive universally. A parent’s love is universal.


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Tina Varughese

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