By Neha Navsaria, PhD
Disagreements are unavoidable in any relationship. For parents, the time will come when a child begins to make their own choices and question parental authority. This can be very difficult for a South Asian parent, as culture emphasizes reliance on parents. Parents want to teach their children cultural values, yet they don’t want to create conflict.
More often than not, the meaningful role of culture in their lives leads South Asian parents to stress the importance of cultural values to their children. This results in children feeling caught between two cultures. They feel conflicted and sometimes resentful of their parents. This is a crucial and tense time for South Asian families. If family differences are not resolved in a healthy manner, then a family can be under constant stress.
Unfortunately, parents do not receive a manual on how to manage disagreements when they have children, so this is often new territory for many families. Dr. Patricia Tanner Nelson, a family and human development specialist, summarizes the basics on family stress management. Good communication in families is not just about talking to each other; it is a two-way street. The key to healthy communication is listening as well as understanding a different perspective before thinking about your own response.
Dr. Nelson describes that miscommunication happens for a number of reasons. Sometimes a family member doesn’t present clear expectations. Other times a family member does not understand or misinterprets what is said. Only when family members express themselves and feel understood they are ready to move toward thinking about solutions and compromise, rather than argue.
How can we use Dr. Nelson’s ideas to help parents navigate the challenging world of South Asian parenting?
• It is important to learn about your child’s goals. You would be surprised to know that your goals are often similar, but the paths you take to get to them could be very different because of generational and cultural differences.
• Once you take the time to understand your child’s perspective, it is important to express your viewpoint in a calm, non-judgmental manner. You want to get the point across to your child that you are not out to ruin their day, but here to help them.
• It can be helpful for your child to hear from you that parenting between two cultures is new for you and you are learning as well.
• Express an understanding that your child is experiencing multiple cultures daily—in home, school and with friends and family. Children are trying to make them all work together, but it can be a stressful and confusing process. It may be helpful for your child to hear about your stories of adjusting to new cultures. This can provide a model for your child and help them understand that they are not alone in the process.
• The most important role a parent has is providing guidance to their child. Guidance in navigating multiple cultural identities is an important gift given by a South Asian parent to their child.
Remember that good communication skills are not learned overnight. Like any skill, it takes time to learn. Dr. Nelson reminds us that these skills may seem strange at first, but if you stick with them they will eventually become natural. You are essentially undoing an old communication pattern and introducing a new way to communicate, so be patient with the process!
For further information, please see Dr. Nelson’s information sheet on healthy communication skills for families.
Neha Navsaria, PhD is a child psychologist with interests in parent-child relationships, parenting issues, immigrant mental health and cross-cultural psychology. She would like to let everyone know that May 6-12, 2012 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. A healthy family means healthy children. She encourages everyone to speak up for kids.