Thoughts on Asian Parenting

I was born in Malaysia and moved to the United States when I was about 19 years old for my college education. Having lived in Asia for almost close to 2 decades, I would call myself an Asian at heart.

Luckily, I grew up with somewhat liberal parents. They believed in giving me the freedom to explore everything, but they also parented me with very Asian values. For example, they expected a lot out of me, under-praised even when I did well in school, over criticized my flaws and overvalued the academic education system. The pressure that I grew up with served me very well in my adult life, but it also took a toll on me in some ways.

When I gave birth to my daughters, many of my close friends have asked if I would adopt the strict approach of tiger parenting as I raise my kids in the US. I wouldn’t call myself a tiger mom, but I am authoritative in some of my parenting ways. I think figuring out the right balance is a challenge, and I hope to take the best parts from my upbringing to pass it on to my daughters.

Are my daughters raised the Asian way? Sure, they understand some Chinese and enjoy the Chinese cuisine, but there is more to Asian parenting than language and food. Over the past few years, I’ve researched on the best ways to parenting, but I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to parenting because all children are different and every situation requires a different approach.

Here are some of my thoughts on Asian parenting:

Praise or criticize your child?

I used to scoff when other American parents praised their children for the tiniest little achievement. “Great job! I’m so proud of you!” My parents never said that to me. Many Asian parents neglect to praise their children even they performed well. Instead, they focus more of discipline or criticisms.

When I used to rank top of my class, instead of praising me, my parents used to tell me, “Do better next time”. I did not get any rewards for being first in class, but luckily, I was self-motivated enough to do my best each time, so I wondered why American parents are often so generous with their praises.

However, I’ve seen how a parent can destroy a child’s motivation by not giving praises when they did a great job. Reward is an integral part in the psychology of forming good habits. Having said that, I now adopt a strategy where I try to applaud my daughters’ achievements.

Foster independence or spoon-feed them?

When I told my mother-in-law that I was training my daughter to learn how to feed herself as early as possible, she just could not understand that concept.

“But she’s still so young and she’s not going to eat well if you do that” was her response.

In Asian culture, parents tend to think that children are highly dependent on the parents. Typical Asian parents will feed their children until about 3 years old, even if it means chasing the child around the house.

However, I think children who are learning to feed themselves are developing independence and fine motor skills. Mealtime can be stressful because of the mess, but all these are just temporary trade-offs for a lifetime of independence skills. Today, both my daughters are able to feed themselves (albeit a little messy), but that has also allowed me some time to enjoy my meal together with them. The skill of functioning independently is a skill that they will continue to develop for the later years of early childhood and for life.

To take the lead or follow your child’s lead?

Asian parents can be very authoritative. For example, when it comes to potty training, my parents were very vocal about this issue when my daughter wasn’t potty-trained at the age of 2. They think that it should be parent-led job, and that we should train the child to use the potty even if she has not shown any signs of readiness. According to my mother, “you just place her on the potty, make some “ssshhh” sounds, and she will learn to go eventually. It’s easy”. Yeah right, I don’t think so mom. My daughter was eventually potty-trained at 2.5 years old, and I was glad I waited a few more months until she was ready. We, as parents, were also mentally prepared for the process as well. I have heard horror stories of toddlers peeing and pooing all around the house when parents let them go bare. I was so glad we didn’t have to go through that! Because we followed our daughter’s lead, we potty-trained her in a week. I consider that a success!

I think this example shows the difference in parenting culture. Asian parents tend to push their children towards what they think is the right direction, and they don’t stop to think if it’s the right time or right choice for their children. For example, the cliché is that many Asians end up being lawyers, doctors or engineers. If you’re not one, you’re failing as an adult. While I think many end up being excellent at their careers, but do they really enjoy their jobs? I know of many adult friends who end up being dissatisfied with what they were doing. I think the point here is that American parents try to respect their children’s individuality and let them do what they are interested in doing, which could ultimately allow them to reach their full potential in life.

My parenting strategy

Despite what I view as some shortcomings of the Asian parenting approach, I still think Asian parents are great at instilling strong work ethic (contrary to popular belief, Asians achieve academic success because of hard work and not their genes!), encouraging great performance in school and making sure that their children get the best head start in life. Not to mention teaching their children to respect the elders and putting family first.

For example, I’m sure you’ve heard of Asian parents giving up everything for their children to attend universities to get a good education. To them, attending the Ivy League is equivalent to winning the Oscars or Nobel Peace Prize.

While I’m not on that extreme end of the spectrum, I still think some of these values are great to instill in our children to support the development of strong and resilient kids. I try to recognize the biases in Asian parenting, and incorporate some western approach to it.

One thing that I’ve learned over the past few years is that one needs to be flexible when it comes to parenting. As my children goes through life, I’m sure my views on what is right or wrong will change, and so will my parenting strategy. Thankfully, my husband is also flexible in his ways, and does not challenge my ways in front of the kids. At the end of the day, when my daughters tell me that they love me before bedtime, I know I am doing at least one thing right – my children and I have a tight relationship.

What are some of your thoughts on Asian parenting? Leave a comment below!

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