Parenting in Different Cultures – What Can We Learn?

Parenting in Different Cultures
Parenting in Different Cultures

Different cultures around the world have different parenting norms. A 2013 study by Esther F. Akinsola, Associate Professor Developmental and Clinical Psychology at the Faculty of Social Sciences University of Lagos, says there are two types of cultures. Individualistic and collectivistic. Individualistic cultures prioritize independence and the pursuit of individual achievement. Collectivistic cultures focus more on their contribution to the family and the community’s well-being. Parenting styles reflect these cultures. Parents in collectivistic countries promote obedience and conformity, helpfulness, and interdependence within the family unit. In contrast, parents in individualistic countries value warmth and acceptance, autonomy, and assertiveness.

In the multi-cultural countries many of us live in, sometimes these cultures can clash. However, as with any diversity, there is always something we can learn from other people. We should see it as an opportunity to learn something from a different culture and incorporate it into our parenting. Both the individualistic and the collectivistic cultures have various valuable components. One of the most fascinating is looking at how sex is taught in different cultures.

Cultural Differences in Parenting Styles and Discipline: A Look at Different Countries

In every part of the world, parenting in other cultures is informed by the people’s common values. Below are some habits and styles of parenting in various countries.

  • Community parenting in parts of Africa. Many cultures around the world understand the importance of attachment and parental bonds for children. But the dynamics vary with different cultures. For example, Hiltrud Otto’s doctoral research looked into attachment patterns in 30 children from Nso, northwest Cameroon. The study found that the mothers in Nso do not believe in exclusive attachment between mother and child. They think that the child should be encouraged to bond and develop an attachment to many caregivers, including neighbors and the wider community. Their reason for this is that in the event of the parent’s absence, permanently or otherwise, the child will have bonded with other people who will take care of them. In Efe, a community in Zaire, babies are passed between women who hold and nurture the infant collectively. By six weeks, infants in Efe spend way more time with the others in the community than the biological mother. While in Ivory Coast, a newborn’s social circle widens dramatically almost immediately following birth. From this, we can see that there is a belief in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child in many cultures. However, although many of our children may have several caregivers, I don’t think we would ever consider deliberately passing our child around so young.
  • Independence and collective mindset in Norway. In Norway, it’s usual to see toddlers in extremely cold temperatures outside at Barnehages (nurseries), where parents pay for them to be taken care of. Children take naps, bundled up in their strollers under a Scandinavian winter. They even eat outside with their gloves on at some Barnehages. An American mother, unadjusted to the Norwegian way of parenting, had this to say: “There’s a sense that there’s just one right way to do things. And everyone does it that way. In America, there are different parenting styles—co-sleeping, attachment parenting, etc. Here there is just one way, more or less: all kids go to bed at 7, all attend the same style of preschool, all wear boots, all eat the same lunch … that’s the Norwegian way.” This ‘correct way’ mentality means that children are given independence earlier. Norwegians believe that every adult is of a similar mindset of the community, so their child will be helped if they need it. The living standard in Norway was also relatively demanding until discovering oil, so children are still taught how to fend for themselves—giving them and their parents confidence in their abilities. This, to me, is something that we can take away from this. Here is the article for helping your child take steps to independence. In 2023 a book by Iben Sandhal looked at parenting in Denmark. We look at this in more detail here.
  • Family mealtime in Hispanic cultures. In Spain, families are focused on the social and interpersonal aspects of child development, according to Sara Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Connecticut. It’s the same in Argentina. This focus on the interpersonal aspect and family is why parents in Spain and Argentina keep their children up until 10 pm. Children are expected to take part in family life in the evenings. That is while family bonds in Latino communities are so strong. Mealtimes are therefore really important as a time to sit and be together.
  • Responsibility and independence in Japan, New Zealand, and Polynesian Islands. In Japan, parents allow their 4- to 7-year-old children to ride the subway without adult supervision, even in Tokyo. Children don’t need to be escorted to school, and they need no help cleaning after themselves. Children in Japan sweep and mop classrooms and bathrooms as early as first grade. Christine Gross, author of Parenting Without Borders, says that she wouldn’t dare let her kids ride the subway if she lived in the US. But she does it in Japan. Parents in Polynesian Islands and New Zealand go as far as letting children take care of other children. Before the child learns to walk, adults are in charge. But as soon as the child starts walking, other children take over. In her book, How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, Mei-Ling Hopgood wrote, “Preschool-aged children learned to calm babies, and toddlers became self-reliant because they were taught that that was the only way they could hang out with the big kids.”
  • Appetites in South Korea and France. In countries like America, parents keep snacks handy in case of a tantrum. But in South Korea, parents let their children go hungry between meals. The reason behind this is to teach children discipline and patience. Instead of snacking alone, children are made to wait for everyone else in the family because eating is seen as a form of socializing. With the French, they teach their children to savor their meals. They do this by giving children a long time to eat lunch, then severely limiting snacks afterward so that children can be hungry at dinner, where they can savor their meals and socialize with the family for long periods. These communities tend to be relatively healthy.

Final Thoughts on Different Nationality Parenting

Though there is a striking difference in the way people go about their parenting duties all over the world, most do so with their children’s best interests at heart. My Name Tags, a company that produces name labels for children’s items at home and in school, surveyed thousands of parents across Europe to find out how beliefs, methods of discipline, and the amount of freedom given to children varies in different countries. Ultimately, while there are parenting differences around the world, the survey found more similarities than differences. There’s no single parenting method, so parents can reach across borders and borrow one or two parenting ethos from other cultures.