Cultural Differences in Parenting

Cultural differences have been a talking point as far back as I can remember and why should it be any different in parenting?  Personally I believe the differences are more apparent than the similarities seemly because we, human beings, rather like to differentiate for the sake of an argument.  Without the differences, what is there to talk about?

In reality, regardless of race, religion and nationality we all share the same feelings, wants and needs of being loved and respected.  Any other differences are shaped by societal expectations, behaviours and conditioning.

I was having coffee with a couple of friends a few days ago: Dolly Yeo, my partner at Global Coach Connect and Nadine Auzanneau, French by birth but is more of an international citizen having lived outside of France in several countries for 20 years .

The subject of parent coaching came up in our conversation and the buzz of excitement animated the whole discussion.  It’s no wonder since both Dolly and Nadine are parents of teenagers.

At some point, we may have entertained thoughts that Asian parents may be very different from our Western counterparts but, as Nadine related her story, we found more common grounds than we realized – particularly in communication issues with teens.

It’s a common belief that all parents having a basic human instinct to protect their young are given to react instinctively rather than intuitively to signs of “dangers”.  Unfortunately these signs are not recognised by their children who have neither the shared conditioning nor experience to see the picture quite the same way.

When parents react instinctively to perceived dangers, their anxiety levels shot up to “red-alert” high within seconds.  The well-known fight-or-flight phenomenon sets in leaving little room for reasoning to occur.  Armoured in this protective shield, parents start lecturing their teenagers on what to do, have and be.   At the receiving end, teenagers seeing this as a threat also get into the fight-or-flight mode and thus reacting in hostility and aggressiveness.  They are then labelled as being rebellious or having a bad attitude.  How can any reasonable and intelligible conversation be possible under these circumstances?  To borrow Blair Singer’s words, “when emotions are high, intelligence goes down”.

Reading this you probably would say, “Yeah right, don’t I know this already.  You are not saying anything new that I have not heard before.”  This is precisely it.  We all know this but yet do next to nothing to circumvent the situation.  Perhaps we just don’t know how.  If so, read on to get some tips.

Only a few do differently like Nadine.  This is Nadine’s story.  She used to have lots of communication issues with her son.  Being French, she believes, she tends to be very expressive and vocal.  She reacts to her upsets quickly by getting everything off her chest without pausing  for a moment.  What ensues is a never-ending chain reaction of violent exchanges with her son.  This continued until she attended a talk by a school teacher on how to communicate with teenagers.  As if struck by lightning, she suddenly realised  she knew all these but they were buried deep within her subconscious mind.  Now it would a matter of bringing them all right up front to her conscious mind and work on them.  From then on, she made a decision to change.

The journey was a tough one; going through a process of self discovery starting with self-awareness, reflection and onto self-management.  It took her a year patiently sowing the seeds of change to finally manage to get to the point of having a great communicative relationship with all her children.  She is very proud of her achievements.

These are some of the things she did to bring the relationship closer:

  • Identify the trigger points and learn to recognize the signs before erupting
  • Made a pack with her son to ask for time-out when the emotions run high to process her emotions and reconvene when both their emotions come back down to a more manageable level
  • Improve communication by first seeking to understand rather than to be understood
  • Change from instinctively reacting to intuitively responding

All these may appear simple but they are not easy to achieve.  It requires a lot of determination and discipline.  One good tip is to boost up your energy and give yourself continuous encouragement by celebrating the little wins.  Nadine’s year–long hard work is an amazing feat as some could have taken longer.  That could have been because she was working with a coach.

Dolly, having gone through similar phases with her teenagers, sees a lot of similarities and recognizes all the challenges Nadine went through.  She concurs that as far as parenting goes, there is no real cultural differences.

These past few months working along with Dolly made me realize that many parents are facing similar issues but sadly are not willing to invest in themselves to make the first step towards change – in the way they communicate with their children.  Rather they expect changes only on the part of their children – fixing their children’s behaviour by whatever means and not their own.  Examples after examples, yet history repeats itself.  When are parents going to wake up and take the first step?

Parents, if you can relate to this story and are determine to make a positive shift for the better like Nadine, you might want to try talking to a parent coach to see how he/she may help you.  This is your chance to turn things around by doing something to prevent the years of heartaches and regrets down the road.


A 7-part series onStop Parenting, Start Coaching – Conscious and Mindful Parenting” will be aired on radio 93.8 (Singapore) live on every Wednesday from 7 April 2010 at 11am hosted by Dolly Yeo with producers, Stanley and Pamela of In the Living Room.  I suggest you tune in as the first step towards improving parent-child communication.


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